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Math And Girls: The Grade Bias

Math And Girls: The Grade Bias

Gender biased teachers overgrade boys and undergrade girls in math exams.

I hated math. All throughout school, math and the exact sciences were the ball and chain around my otherwise studious ankle. And I wasn’t the only one: the most basic high school math class (ironically, statistics) was filled with glassy-eyed girls, whilst a battalion of bored boys populated the most advanced classes.

Scientific studies have shown that gender-biased upbringing encourages boys to excel at math, whilst girls are encouraged to focus on other topics. A recent study shows however, that the problem surpasses gender-biased encouragement. In fact, we seem to be dealing with a much more shocking issue: gender-biased grading.

Gendered grading

Professors Lavy and Sand collected data for the National Bureau Of Economic Research about teachers’ gender biases in three cohorts of 6th grade students between 2002-2004. Teachers were asked to mark tests completed by randomly assigned 6th graders separated in two groups: blind groups with teachers unaware of the gender of the student, and non-blind groups with teachers informed about the test being completed by a boy or a girl. These students’ test results were then tracked from primary school to high school. This data determined the effect a gender bias in primary school could have on future choices and achievements.

Lavy and Sand found that in the blind test group, girls actually outscored boys on math exams. In the non-blind test group however, in which teachers were aware of the students’ gender, boys significantly outscored girls. This implies that when teachers were aware that a boy completed the math exam, they gave him a higher grade.

Professional gaps

This bias has long-term implications: Lavy and Sand found that the gender bias in primary school carried through to high school and beyond. Having been structurally overgraded, boys were far more likely than girls to choose high school subjects related to math and the exact sciences. In addition, Lavy and Sand’s results suggest that the gender bias has a direct link to the high school diploma: It significantly increased the national exam outcomes of boys, while it lowered that of girls. Lavy and Sand found that of all students who took the Advanced Placement exam in high school, only 18.5% were girls.

Thus, this research proposes that gendered grading early in life has massive implications for one’s future. Girls are structurally undergraded, are less likely to choose math related subjects, and score lower on national exams. In turn, they are less likely to gain university degrees in math and exact sciences, which subsequently lowers opportunities on the job market. For example, only 12% of computer science degrees are completed by women.

This might provide some comfort for women who believe they are naturally hopeless at math, but it also shows we still have a long way to go towards gender equality. Moreover, it underlines that gender equality amongst children is especially crucial in narrowing the gender gap.

Lavy, V. & Sand, E. (2015). On the Origins of Gender Human Capital: Short and Long Term Consequences of Teachers’ Stereotypical Biases National Bureau of Economic Research DOI: 10.3386/w20909

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1 Comment

  • mm
    Jeffrey Daniels
    July 15, 2015, 16:35

    The only equality that really matters is equality of opportunity — equality of outcome is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, because it sacrifices quality so that an equal number of each ‘kind’ of human can be seen to be represented in an area of life (it also seems to be a favourite of tyrants). So long as every human being has the full ability to enter any field they wish — which is virtually the case here in the West — then true equality has been satiated.
    That being said, it’d be interesting to see which teachers and which students were chosen for this study. It may be that the researchers ended up with a particularly discriminatory group of teachers, while simply choosing a different group may have given them a different result.
    Along those lines, it’d also be interesting to see if other such studies were done with respect to other subjects, like the Arts, and Language Studies.