AEI’s Christina Hoff Sommers writes in today’s New York Times (“The Boys at the Back“) about an important new academic study (“Non-cognitive Skills and the Gender Disparities in Test Scores and Teacher Assessments: Evidence from Primary School” in the new issue of the Journal of Human Resources, see University of Georgia press release here) that addresses the research question: Why do girls get better grades in elementary school than boys (starting in kindergarten), even when they score worse on standardized tests? Here’s the opening of Christina’s excellent article, it’s well worth reading the whole thing:
Boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college. Why? A study coming out this week in The Journal of Human Resources gives an important answer. Teachers of classes as early as kindergarten factor good behavior into grades — and girls, as a rule, comport themselves far better than boys.
The study’s authors analyzed data from more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.
The scholars attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys.
No previous study, to my knowledge, has demonstrated that the well-known gender gap in school grades begins so early and is almost entirely attributable to differences in behavior. The researchers found that teachers rated boys as less proficient even when the boys did just as well as the girls on tests of reading, math and science. (The teachers did not know the test scores in advance.) If the teachers had not accounted for classroom behavior, the boys’ grades, like the girls’, would have matched their test scores.
MP: The chart above displays some of the empirical results from the research study (in Tables 4A, 4B and 4C), showing that for both math and science, white boys in kindergarten outperform white girls on standardized tests but get worse grades; and for reading, white boys have lower scores on standardized tests than white girls, but get even lower grades (Note: Similar gender gaps exist for black and Hispanic students). In all six cases represented in the chart, the gender gaps are statistically significant at the 5% level or higher. Why does this matter?
One [reason] is the heightened attention to school achievement as the cornerstone of lifelong success. Grades determine entry into advanced classes, enrichment programs and honor societies. They open — or close — doors to higher education. “If grade disparities emerge this early on, it’s not surprising that by the time these children are ready to go to college, girls will be better positioned,” says Christopher M. Cornwell, an economist at the University of Georgia and an author of the new study, along with his colleague David B. Mustard and Jessica Van Parys of Columbia University.
And here’s Christina’s conclusion:
I can sympathize with those who roll their eyes at the relatively recent alarm over boys’ achievement. Where was the indignation when men dominated higher education, decade after decade? Isn’t it time for women and girls to enjoy the advantages? The impulse is understandable but misguided. I became a feminist in the 1970s because I did not appreciate male chauvinism. I still don’t. But the proper corrective to chauvinism is not to reverse it and practice it against males, but rather basic fairness. And fairness today requires us to address the serious educational deficits of boys and young men. The rise of women, however long overdue, does not require the fall of men.