Having grown beyond boyhood myself, notwithstanding my wife’s vigorous assertions to the contrary, it is of more than passing interest to see that achievement levels of boys on both provincial and international tests of reading are somewhat lower than girls at all grade levels.
I thought my team was doing fairly well academically, but both the provincial Foundation Skills Assessment and the Program for International Assessment say that no, girls everywhere are better readers than boys.
Not only that, on the FSA tests at grades 4 and 7, girls outscore boys both in writing and numeracy.
Internationally, girls continue to outperform boys in reading across all participating countries, including Canada and across the provinces.
In PISA 2009, Canadian girls outperformed Canadian boys in reading by 34 points, a difference similar to the average boy-girl gap in all OECD countries at 33 points.
A minor win for boys, though, in mathematics and science on the PISA tests in 2009 — Canadian boys marginally outperformed Canadian girls by 12 and five points respectively.
So what is the significance of all this? Does it simply confirm what women have been saying all along, that guys might be bigger, but brains will outscore brawn every time?
What about marks earned in the classroom? Do girls generally upstage boys there as well?
A study from the University of Texas at Austin says yes and provides one explanation: Teachers of classes as early as kindergarten factor good behaviour into grades, and girls, as a rule, comport themselves more acceptably to teachers than boys.
The study analyzed data from more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through Grade 5, and found that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than even their test scores would have predicted.
The study attributed the differences between males and females to differences in “noncognitive skills” such as attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still (not a boy strength) and working independently.
The report suggests that, generally, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys — basically that girls behave more suitably in classrooms than boys and earn better marks as a result.
Author Christina Hoff Sommers, who wrote The War Against Boys — How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men, suggests that boy-averse trends — such as the decline of recess, zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, the tendency to criminalize minor juvenile misconduct — have militated against success for boys.
Sommers suggests that as schools have become more feelings-centred, risk-averse, collaboration-oriented and sedentary, they have moved further and further from boys’ characteristic sensibilities — whatever they are.
Some studies imply that while boys are leading the schoolroom technology revolution into the Internet Age, teachers report themselves being better prepared for classroom management and discipline (read anti-boy), and are less prepared for using technology in the classroom.
This can create problems for boys who would rather explore information on their personal technology than listen to the teacher at the front of the room, and that while boys choose to play with computers, video games and the Internet, only a few educators understand that this “play” is learning central to preparation for the workplace.
Then there is neurological development expert Michael Gurian, who plunges headlong and fearlessly into a world of political incorrectness by suggesting that the male role over the last 10,000 years has more likely to have been the hunter and gatherer, going out of the cave and exploring new territory, and that it is DNA-inevitable that that boys would explore the new technology first.
All well and good, but right now Team Boy has some serious catching up to do.
Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.
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