April 9, 2015

Are Teachers Biased against Girls When It Comes to Math?

An article on the Australian-based academic news website The Conversation recently summarized a study that found that some elementary school teachers graded boys’ math tests more favorably than girls’ math tests, affecting future grades and students’ decisions about whether to pursue science and math education.

The study measured teacher bias by tracking the test scores of nearly 3,000 students from sixth grade until high school graduation. The authors compared the scores given to students by teachers who knew the students’ sex against the scores given to the same students when no identifying information was revealed.  According to the article, the study “identified that a worrying number of teachers gave boys higher math test results than girls of the same ability.”

The study also examined the pattern’s long-term effects, finding that “teachers’ biases favoring boys have an asymmetric effect by gender—positive effect on boys’ achievements and negative effect on girls’.” The study suggests that “teachers’ biased behavior at early stage of schooling have long run implications for occupational choices and earnings at adulthood, because enrollment in advanced courses in math and science in high school is a prerequisite for post-secondary schooling in engineering, computer science, and so on.”