Learning and Gender

On the day your district administrators look at test scores, grades, and discipline referrals with gender in mind, some stunning patterns quickly will emerge.

Girls, they might find, are behind boys in elementary school math or science scores. They’ll find high school girls statistically behind boys in SAT scores. They might find, upon deeper review, that some girls have learning disabilities that are going undiagnosed.

Boys, they’ll probably notice, make up 80 to 90 percent of the district’s discipline referrals, 70 percent of learning disabled children, and at least two-thirds of the children on behavioral medication. They’ll probably find that boys earn two-thirds of the Ds and Fs in the district, but less than half the As. On statewide standardized test scores, they’ll probably notice boys behind girls in general. They may be shocked to see how far behind the boys are in literacy skills; nationally, the average is a year and a half.

The moment an administrator sees the disparity of achievement between boys and girls can be liberating. Caring about children’s education can now include caring about boys and girls specifically. New training programs and resources for teachers and school districts are opening cash-strapped school boards’ eyes, not just to issues girls and boys face but also to ways of addressing gender differences in test scores, discipline referrals, and grades.

In the Edina School District, outside Minneapolis, Superintendent Ken Dragseth and district staff implemented a gender initiative that has helped close achievement gaps and improve overall education for students. In 2002, Dragseth and his staff analyzed district achievement data. They found that girls were doing much better than boys on most academic indicators, showing that they needed to address this achievement gap. They discovered areas of need for girls as well.

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