Closing the Gender Literacy Gap

By Sheryl Boris-Schacter

Three years ago, a parent in my elementary school asked me about the difference between recent standardized test scores of the boys and girls in our district. The parent wondered if I had read a new book that had just been published about boys and school.

It was my second year as principal at Hunnewell School in Wellesley, Mass.

Analyzing the building’s scores the year before, I hadn’t been overly concerned with girls having higher achievement levels in both math and language arts. The girls had been more successful across content areas in all three grade levels assessed.

I believed data disaggregation almost always revealed differences, and concerns should be raised only if patterns and other academic indicators existed. Unlike these new standardized test scores, the progress reports I had read lacked any clear advantage by the girls.

However, I had to concede that boys were overrepresented in special education, reading intervention programs, and disciplinary actions. This parent’s comment nudged me to dig further. I requested the test data from the central office going back five years and discovered that the current scores were not aberrations. All district elementary school boys scored below girls in the highest categories, but the gap was largest in my school and in literacy.

I read the book the parent recommended, Peg Tyre’s The Trouble With Boys. Although I disagreed with much in the book, two big ideas resonated: Schools were requiring young children to be unnaturally inactive, and boys, as a group, were more likely to struggle in reading than girls. 

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