Do Girls Benefit From Teacher Bias in Grading?

Ilaria Lievore

A new study by Ilaria Lievore and Moris Triventi, sociologists at the University of Trento in Italy, finds that girls are routinely being given higher grades than boys with the same academic competencies. The study conducted among schoolchildren in Italy may be relevant for public school students in the United States.

When the results of standardized tests, which have a standard scoring system, are used, girls typically outperform boys in humanities, languages, and reading skills, while boys do better in maths. In contrast, when grades are awarded by teachers, females do better than males in all subjects.

Researchers began by comparing the scores of almost 40,000 students received in standardized tests of language and maths with the grades they achieved in their classroom exams. The 38,957 students were in the 10th grade and so around 15-16 years old. In line with previous studies, the girls performed better than the boys in the standardized tests of language, while the boys were ahead at maths. The teachers, however, put the girls in front in both subjects.

The analysis also showed that when a boy and a girl were similarly competent at a subject, the girl would typically receive a higher grade. The study is the first to demonstrate that the problem is systemic – it is present across a variety of educational environments and irrespective of teachers’ characteristics.

The study’s authors say it’s possible that, in reading, teachers unconsciously reward students exhibiting traditionally female behavior, such as quietness and neatness, which make teaching easier for the teachers. Another theory is that inflated grades in mathematics are a way of trying to encourage girls, who are often seen as weaker in this subject.

The authors state that this bias against boys could mean the difference between a pass and a fail in subjects such as math. It could also have wider consequences in areas such as college admission, job choice, and earnings

The full study, “Do Teacher and Classroom Characteristics Affect the Way in Which Girls and Boys Are Graded?” was published on the website of the British Journal of Sociology of Education. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study

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