Exploring differential achievement between boys and girls in high school
Educators, researchers and policy makers have taken notice, in recent years, of a trend whereby girls are attaining higher academic achievement than boys in most school grades and subjects, in many western nations. Further, this trend does not appear to diminish with age, with universities and colleges reporting that male students have lower attendance and program completion. Many theories outlining the possible reasons for the differential achievement have been put forth, but despite the many explanations and intervention strategies, gender differences in achievement persist. The present research study was designed to explore potential sources of influence on girls' and boys' academic achievement. The five categories used as a framework for the research instruments were based on those outlined by Gambell and Hunter (1999) in their study of gender differences in literacy, that is, evaluative bias, home socialization, role and societal expectations, gender psychology and equity policy. These explanatory categories, derived from research concerning gender differences in literacy, were applied to achievement overall to explore whether they could shed light on the problem of gender differences in achievement at the high school level. This study was based on three research questions: (a) What is the effect of gender, achievement level, and grade on each of the five explanatory categories?; (b) What is the nature and extent of the relationship between evaluative bias, home socialization, role and societal expectations, gender psychology, and equity policy?, and; (c) To what extent is there congruence between student and teacher perceptions of similar issues? The data provided by 36 teachers and 153 high school students from three western Canadian high schools were used to study these questions. Results were analyzed using multivariate analyses and descriptive procedures. The multivariate analyses of the student data indicate that gender and grade produced no main or interaction effects while achievement level produced a main effect (no interaction effects). Achievement level main effects were present in the evaluative bias, gender psychology and equity policy categories. There were no statistically significant effects for the categories of role and societal expectations and home socialization. Most of the statistically significant main effects involved the low achievement group, which was represented by a small number of participants (n =13). Relationships between explanatory categories were examined using Pearson's product-moment correlations. These results indicated that there were a number of statistically significant correlations between explanatory categories, some positive, some negative. In general, these correlations suggested that when students feel supported at home and at school, they also show a good school-student fit, and a perception of general equity within the school. The converse is also true, suggesting that while some students appear well adjusted at school, others appear to have a number of difficulties. In exploring potential discrepancies between teacher and student perceptions, the teacher items that elicited a strong teacher agreement, where 80% or more teachers chose the same answer, were compared to related, though not necessarily parallel, student items. Follow-up univariate analyses of student items provided additional information on the perceptions of students. Most similar items showed general congruence between teacher and student perceptions, though there were some differences as well. These results suggest that low achieving students are not as clear as their classmates about how their grades are tabulated. Also, it appears that teachers perceive a decline in parental involvement over students' development, whereas students perceive that their parents' involvement has remained fairly constant over time. On a more encouraging note, there were no group effects for gender or grade for any of the explanatory categories, with only achievement level showing a main effect for evaluative bias, gender psychology and equity policy items. Overall, the results of this study suggest that although the five explanatory categories provide insight into potential areas of improvement in education, they do not appear to explain gender differences in achievement. The contributions of this model, and of this study, are discussed, as well as recommendations for future study. For example, future researchers may wish to explore the effect other factors such as motivational regulation, students' level of employment, extracurricular involvement and earning potential after high school. Nonetheless, future researchers may wish to strengthen the measurement properties of the instruments used in this study as well, in order to further test the null hypothesis through replication or other related studies.