Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

All Is Not = in Maths Teaching, Academics Warn

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

All Is Not = in Maths Teaching, Academics Warn

Article excerpt

Teachers underestimate girls' performance relative to boys of the same level, study of 12,500 pupils finds

Teachers tend to rate girls as less good at maths than boys who have similar levels of performance, a major new study reveals.

Researchers in the US suggested that this underrating of girls could be one of the reasons that boys were more likely to score high marks in maths than girls - a gender gap that increases as children get older.

The study, by academics from New York University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and West Chester University, looked at maths test scores from more than 12,500 children and compared them to teachers' assessments of their maths performance and behaviour.

"Teachers give lower ratings to girls when boys and girls perform and behave similarly," the research team states in a paper published on AERA Open, an open-access journal from the American Educational Research Association (bit.ly/GenderMaths).

"This suggests that teachers must perceive girls as working harder than similarly achieving boys in order to rate them as similarly proficient in maths," they add.

'Uniformly underrated'

The researchers looked at the results of maths tests that children took in kindergarten (Year 1) and found that girls and boys were equally likely to be among the top 50 per cent of test scores, but girls made up just 45 per cent of the top 15 per cent of scores and less than a third of the top 1 per cent.

They found that as children progressed through school, the under-representation of girls among the top performers further deteriorated, so that by the spring of 2nd grade (Year 3), girls only made up only around a fifth of the top 1 per cent of test scores.

Teachers "uniformly underrated" girls' proficiency in maths relative to boys who were similar academically and in behaviour, the researchers found.

"The widening of the gender gap in math achievement we have documented...is likely due in part to the lower expectations that teachers (and society) hold of girls," the paper, Have Gender Gaps in Math Closed?, says.

It adds that "good girl" behaviour - in which girls tend to use the strategies they have been given by teachers rather than taking more bold mathematical leaps as boys are more likely to do - can also inhibit maths learning.

The study, led by Joseph Cimpian of New York University, used data collected from two groups of children: 5,056 who began school in 1998-99 and 7,507 who began in 2010-11.

Gender stereotyping

Sue Pope, from the UK's Association of Teachers of Mathematics, said that an awareness of the dangers of gender stereotyping could help to combat the problem. …

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