Girls always test boys

Can't girls read better than boys?

Girls can read better than boys - this cliché is confirmed again and again by the results of PISA and other school performance studies. But the test design may only be to blame for the supposed gender difference. At least that is what two Norwegian researchers now argue. They believe that the tasks given are better suited to female students - and differences in motivation could also play a role.

Reading is a fundamental skill. Even kindergarten children are able to distinguish between mere pictures and written words. But until you have mastered reading properly, it takes many years - and not everyone finds it equally easy. Time and again, PISA and other school performance studies show that girls are ahead of the game when it comes to reading. In almost all countries, they do better than their male classmates on reading assignments.

This difference is already apparent at the age of ten and is even more evident in the group of fifteen. In the case of even older people, however, the gender-specific competence difference suddenly disappears. How can it be that the supposedly worse readers suddenly catch up like this?

Task design under the microscope

Oddny Judith Solheim and Kjersti Lundetræ from the University of Stavanger in Norway have a suspicion: Could it be that the differences measured in the school tests are at least partly due to the design of the tasks - and that boys are not fundamentally worse readers?

To test this, the researchers compared the designs of two school performance tests - the PILRS test for fifth grade and the PISA test for tenth grade - with the PIAAC test, which assesses adult skills. All of these tests define reading literacy as the ability to understand and use written texts. PISA and PIAAC also test whether the participants can reflect on and evaluate what they have read on their own.

Text form as an explanation

How this competence is measured, however, differs considerably from test to test: “It seems that PISA and PIRLS, the tests given at school, are designed in such a way that they suit girls better. The PIAAC test, on the other hand, is structured differently. That could be a possible explanation for the fact that we see these gender differences in the results from school, ”says Solheim.

The scientists explain why the school tests may be easier for girls as follows: On the one hand, they believe that the text form is to blame. Accordingly, PISA and PIRLS mostly contain long and also fictitious texts. It has been proven that girls can read texts like this better than boys, says the team.

The male gender, on the other hand, can do more with shorter and fact-based forms such as advertisements or labeled graphs. In fact, in the PIAAC test, the proportion of long versus short and fictitious versus fact-based texts is balanced - and the previously measured difference in competence disappears.

The writing makes all the difference

Another point: While there are no differences in reading skills in adults, a number of international studies show a difference in writing - with an advantage for women. "In recent years, more and more students have had to write down their answers to the texts they have read instead of just ticking the correct answer on paper," the researchers report. In PISA, for example, 65 percent of the tasks include writing, from which the girls apparently benefit.

Study results reveal that the gender-specific differences in written assignments are greater than, for example, with multiple-choice questions - and that boys tend to skip the writing assignments altogether more often. However, this could not only be due to her writing talent, but also to another, gender-specific characteristic: motivation.

Boys with a motivation problem?

Do girls only seem to be better at reading because their male classmates lack the motivation to take the tests? The researchers believe yes. In fact, it is known that students are more difficult to get excited about texts than girls, especially when they are younger. In addition, girls tend to do what is asked of them. Boys, on the other hand, like to question the meaning of a task.

“The motivation could also explain why the sex differences are greatest in the tenth grade. Because teenagers question authorities like school more than younger children, ”says Solheim. In addition, the pupils during puberty are confronted with many other challenges besides school. In adulthood, however, this motivation problem disappears - especially since the participants in the PIAAC study volunteer for the test.

"Question tests"

"Perhaps we should question whether the current tests offer both sexes the same opportunities to fully develop their potential as readers," the researchers conclude. The challenge now is to find out how the tests can be made better. "That would give us a better basis to decide whether we really need to worry about boys' reading skills," said Solheim. (Principles, Policy & Practice, 2016; doi: 10.1080 / 0969594X.2016.1239612)

(The University of Stavanger, January 23, 2017 - DAL)

23rd January 2017