Girls have outscored boys on every U.S. reading assessment since the 1970s, but recent gains in boys’ reading achievement are narrowing that gap, according to a new report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.
The 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education includes three different studies on student learning. The first study examines the gender gap in literacy. For this study, the report’s author, Tom Loveless, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, examined the most recent data from eight national tests of U.S. reading achievement: the National Assessment of Educational Progress Long Term Trend (NAEP-LTT), administered to students ages nine, thirteen, and seventeen; the NAEP Main Assessment, administered to students in fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades; the Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS); and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Loveless found that “the test score gaps between males and females are statistically significant on all eight assessments,” with the widest gender gaps among middle and high school students.
Although the gender gap in literacy has persisted for more than forty years, the magnitude of the gap remains relatively small compared to test score gaps between other student groups. For instance, on the 2012 NAEP-LTT for nine-year-olds, the average score for boys was 5 points lower than the average score for girls. By comparison, the gap between students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and their more affluent peers was 28 points, while the gap between English language learners and native English speakers was 34 points, according to the report. Furthermore, the gap between boys and girls on the NAEP-LTT has decreased since the test’s first administration in 1971, with boys demonstrating larger gains than girls throughout the history of the test and particularly during the past decade.
The gender gap in reading is not limited to the United States; it exists worldwide.
“On the 2012 PISA, all OECD countries exhibited a gender gap, with females outscoring males by 23 to 62 points on the PISA scale,” the report notes. Finland, often praised for its outstanding student achievement, had the largest gap with females outscoring males by 62 points on the PISA scale—twice the U.S. gap. Finland’s gap also has widened since the previous administration of PISA in 2000. The report notes that “[t]he reading performance of Finnish boys is not statistically significantly different from boys in the U.S. (482) or from the average U.S. student, boys and girls (498). Finnish superiority in reading only exists among females.”
The 2015 Brown Center Report addresses student reading achievement in its second study as well, which evaluates how implementing the Common Core State Standards for English language arts (CCSS-ELA) has impacted NAEP reading scores. In this study, Loveless analyzes two different indexes, based on 2011 and 2013 state survey data, that rate how thoroughly states have implemented the CCSS. States categorized as “strong implementers” of the CCSS reported in the 2011 survey that they spent more money on professional development, materials, and other programs to support the CCSS. States categorized a “strong implementers” based on the 2013 survey, meanwhile, said they planned to fully implement the CCSS by School Year 2012–13.
Loveless examined state scores on the fourth-grade NAEP between 2009 and 2013 to determine whether a relationship exists between gains on NAEP and implementation of the CCSS. He determined that “[s]tates that have aggressively implemented CCSS-ELA (referred to as ‘strong’ implementers in the study) evidence a one to one and one-half point larger gain on the NAEP scale compared to non-adopters of the standards. This association is similar in magnitude to an advantage found in a study of eighth-grade math achievement in last year’s [Brown Center Report].”
Admittedly, the positive effect is small and the analysis cannot verify a causal link between CCSS implementation and NAEP gains, but instead it simply establishes a correlation. Nonetheless, these preliminary results show some promising effects of the CCSS’s early impacts.
The 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education is available at http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2015/03/24-brown-center-report-loveless.