Robinson and Lubienski also compared teachers’ assessments of boys and girls. They discovered that teachers seem to overestimate girls’ mathematics achievement relative to boys, rating girls higher than boys in both subjects, even when cognitive assessments suggest that boys have a math advantage.
“Our results suggest that there is still a gender gap, not only with achievement, but with teachers’ perceptions,” Lubienski said.
Based in part on other research, the professors suspect that teachers might be mistaking girls’ compliance in the classroom for comprehension, a topic that the researchers are exploring in a forthcoming study.
“We thought that teachers might rate boys higher in math, but we found that even when boys are outscoring girls, the teachers think the girls are outscoring the boys,” Lubienski said. “This might be because girls tend to be perceived as ‘good girls’ in the classroom, and then teachers assume that they understand the material because they complete their work and don’t cause trouble.”
The researchers say that there’s also a gap in reading that favors girls. Although the gap favoring girls generally narrows over time, it also eventually widens among low-achieving girls and boys, who struggle to keep up with their classmates.
“Clearly, the boys start out behind the girls in reading achievement,” Lubienski said. “In general, the mid-achieving boys eventually catch up, but the lowest-achieving boys don’t. In other words, if you’re a boy and you’re really struggling to read, you most likely won’t catch up with your peers. It’s those boys at the bottom that teachers should be most concerned about when it comes to reading.”
The issue of gender gaps in math and reading in U. S. schools has been an ongoing one in education circles, with some researchers arguing that a gender gap doesn’t exist in math anymore, something that was concluded from looking at test results from several states. “There have been debates about whether there really is a gender gap in math,” Lubienski said.
“But our research looked at national data, and they show that there is indeed still a gender gap in math. It’s small, but it’s there, and it grows between kindergarten and fifth grade.”