State Test Score Trends Through 2007-2008, Part 5: Are There Differences in Achievement Between Boys and Girls?

Naomi and Victor Chudowsky
Center on Education Policy
March 2010

This new report from CEP brings good news and bad. The good: According to state assessments, there is no consistent gender gap between boys and girls in math in elementary, middle, or high school. The bad: Boys continue to lag behind girls in reading at all three levels. The report analyzes state-level 2007-08 test data in all 50 states for grades 4, 8, and high school (grade 10 or 11, depending on the year tested) and then compares those scores to 2002. In 2007-08, roughly even amounts of boys and girls scored proficient in math, and no state had a gap larger than ten percentage points. In reading, on the other hand, boys clock in behind girls at every grade level and in every state with measurable data (forty-five of the fifty qualified), with some gaps as large as or larger than ten points. Good news for the Buckeye State – Ohio’s largest gap was six percent, in 10th grade reading.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell us much, because the proficiency bar is so low in some, nay many, states that the higher-achieving group is already mostly above the bar. Thus, any improvements by the lower-achieving group will “close” the gap. Furthermore, gap comparisons don’t tell how well students are actually learning. A better metric is to look at average scores, which the report does briefly. It finds that gaps have actually increased in some states; in other words, more boys are reaching "proficiency," while their female classmates are outpacing them at higher and higher levels. An even better way to calculate these comparisons is with NAEP data. Luckily, the NAEP reading scores were just released, allowing us to do just that. The results are somewhat different. Between 2002 and 2009, the fourth-grade gender gap in reading remained the same--because average scores for both groups went up. And though the gap also stayed steady in eighth grade over the same period, it has actually narrowed since 1992. You can read CEP’s report here.

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