The Achievement Gap Among Genders
Achievement Gap: Measurable academic performance discrepancies among groups of students. The achievement gap is prevalent in standardized test scores, drop-out rates and college completion rates.
In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act was mandated in an effort to close the achievement gaps amongst genders as well as other groups of students. Emphasize on the achievement gaps among different groups of students was included in the No Child Left Behind Act because policymakers were becoming more aware of the growing achievement gap in schools.
Microsoft recently launched a commercial that interviewed elementary aged girls whom were interested in science but felt discouraged because of the connotation that science is for boys (see "Girls Do Science" video below).
The Younger Years:
Although every student comes into school at a different rate of learning and prefer different learning styles; boys and girls have different variables that contribute to the rate they learn and the style they learn best from.
- Kindergarten students perform at the same level on reading, mathematics, and general knowledge tests no matter their gender. However, by third grade, boys show slightly lower reading skills and slightly higher mathematic skills compared to their counterparts.
- The gender gap among students doubles in science and reading between the ages of nine and thirteen. While the math and reading gap shows little growth between genders, the achievement gap in science continues to elevates.
High School and College:
In High School and College, the achievement gap among genders widens even more. One hypothesis is that girls are better at language skills, including reading and writing. It is surprising to see that the precentage of girls that are "proficient or advanced" in writers is almost double than the boys. The statistics below show just how wide the gap has become:
- Males make up 70% of students receiving D’s and F’s (Gurian, 2005).
- For every 100 girls diagnosed with a learning disability, 276 boys are (Mortenson, 2006).
- Nearly twice as many boys are retained as girls (Whitmire, 2010).
- At 12th grade just 16% of boys are “proficient or advanced” writers on federal tests as opposed to 31% of girls (Whitmire, 2010).
- At 12th grade just 29% of boys are “proficient or advanced” readers on federal tests as opposed to 41% of girls (Whitmire, 2010).
- About 7,000 students drop out of high school every day, or one about every 26 seconds. The vast majority of them are boys (Spellings, 2008).
- Women now outnumber men admitted to college, and for the first time ever, outnumber men in the workforce (NBC News, September, 2010).
So Why is There an Achievement Gap Among Genders:
Areas of the brain involved in language and fine motor skills develop about six years earlier in girls. As for boys the areas of the brain involved in targeting and spatial memory mature about four years before girls. This evidence shows that girls develop at a quicker rate than boys in skills that are beneficial to learning. Girls’ brains are ahead of boys in the degree of myelination (Benes et al, 1994). (Myelin is the coating that insulates the neuron’s axon, thus speeding up communication between neurons). Girls are at an immediate advantage because of the rate of maturation is quicker for girls than it is for boys. For an example, a lot of parents are encouraged to hold their boys back if they have summer birthdays due to the lack of maturity; whereas, girls are more likely to be socially mature and ready for the school setting.
Benefits of Same-Sex Teacher-Student Interactions:
- Gender interactions between teachers and students have significant effects on important educational outcomes. These outcomes are test scores, teacher perceptions of student performance, and measures of students' intellectual engagement
- Having a teacher of the opposite sex has shown to decrease student achievement by 0.04 standard deviations.
- Among 13 year old boys, having one year with a male English teacher would eradicate one third of the gender gap in reading performances.
- Among 13 year old girls, having one year with a female science teacher would reduce half of the gender gap in science achievements. The gender gap in mathematics would be eliminated entirely if girls had a female mathematics teacher.
Ways for Classroom Teachers to Close the Achievement Gap:
The achievement gap among genders will continue to widen and become an ongoing problem if actions are not taken to reduce this gap. Classroom teachers can help in this process by doing a few simply things in their everyday schedule. There are no differences in what boys and girls can learn, but there are different ways to teach them. Educators need to begin to take the differences in sequence of brain development into account. One of the last areas to develop fully in the brain is the part that sits right behind the forehead, the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is our C.E.O. It helps us organize, analyze, strategize, and synthesize. It is also where serotonin is produced—a chemical that makes us “feel good” and helps us slow down, lessen impulsivity, and recognize cause and effect. As we discussed above, boys and girls develop at different rates; with girls developing at a quicker pace. Below is a list of ways that teachers can aid in closing the achievement gap:
- For middle school boys, it would benefit their performance if an adult would model high level thinking skills and spend some time helping them organize their notebooks and backpacks.
- At any age, boys need to be reminded of cause and effect relations. Boys are more likely than girls to take risks and engage in dangerous activities. Parents and teachers need to remind boys of the consequences of their actions and help them think through their decisions because boys tend to be over confident when it comes to their abilities. On the other hand, girls tend to under estimate their abilities and need parents and teachers to encourage them to take non threating risks and risks while learning.
- Males especially, benefit from and enjoy movement. But both boys and girls learning can be promoted through physical movement. Here are some benefits of physical activity, it improves attention and motivation by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine, it creates positive moods, lowers anxiety, raises self-esteem, causes stem cells in brain to divide, making new brain cells, decreases impulsivity, adds new cells to the hippocampus (the memory control area) and adds to the “chemical soup” that promotes growth and survival of neurons.
- Teachers can add movement to learning through activities such as: creative dramatics; physical review games; pantomimes of historical events; film making; demonstrations; projects that produce something concrete; puppet shows, such as two neurons sharing information; video broadcasts and game shows, singing, dancing, graphics and art renditions of work and how-to demos.
- Many of our teaching methods don’t accommodate the boy’s spatial mechanical brain in another essential way. Most of what students do in school involves language, from sitting and listening to lectures, working in groups, working on computers, research, and the myriad of reading and writing tasks they are asked to do each day. Because the female brain develops more quickly and has more area devoted to verbal-emotive functioning, and because most girls are more inclined to sit still and stay on task, they tend to be better at school language skills, also known as literacy.
- Boys want to see action, competition, and fictional violence. Yet after third grade most school reading becomes either “boring” textbook information or fiction that progressively becomes too complex and uninteresting to males. Teachers need to provide books to boys that they will enjoy so they can begin to love reading.
- The video below shows a school in Virginia that split classrooms up by gender. And it also explores some of the critiques of having gender specific classrooms.