Educators hope to eliminate a persistent gender gap in early math education.

A gap in reading and math scores still exists in lower grades, with boys continuing to outpace girls in math, and girls ahead of boys in reading, two University of Illinois education professors say.

Using national longitudinal data to perform their analysis, Joseph P. Robinson and Sarah Lubienski investigated male and female achievement in math and reading, looking for when gender gaps first appeared and where in the distribution the gaps were most prevalent.

Except for kindergarteners in the 99th percentile, boys and girls generally start out on equal footing in math competency. In elementary school, girls throughout the distribution lose ground to boys in math achievement before eventually regaining some ground in middle school, according to research published by the professors in the American Educational Research Journal.

“If you just look at the average gap, there is no gap in math between boys and girls when they start kindergarten,” Robinson said. “But when you start to break it down throughout the distribution, taking a look at the low- and high-achieving girls and boys, that’s where we see that there’s a gap favoring boys at the upper-most extreme of the distribution. The 99th percentile of boys is outscoring the 99th percentile of girls.”

Over time, as students progress through elementary school, the gap “begins to widen, favoring boys in the lower part of the distribution,” Robinson said. “By third grade, you can see it throughout the whole range of kids.”