Boys, Girls and Grades: How Do Girls and Boys Compare across the Province
In British Columbia, gender-based differences in school performance do exist. They are systematic, extensive, and persistent.
The same data from the Ministry of Education upon which A Secondary Schools Report Card for British Columbia and The 1999 Report Card on British Columbia's Secondary Schools 11 were based may be used to measure gender balance in academic performance.
Results from the Grade-12 provincially examinable courses 12 show that, on average, girls out-perform boys by statistically significant margins on nearly all of the Report Card indicators. Grade 11 enrollment patterns in Physics and other language studies suggest that the stereotypical course preferences (the very thing gender-equity initiatives were developed to combat) remain firmly entrenched. Recent results on the Ministry of Education's Provincial Learning Assessment Programme (PLAP) reading and writing tests appear to support the notion that girls outperform boys in lower grades as well. 13 What specific conclusions can we draw from the province-wide data?
Girls Out-perform Boys in English 12
Girls, on average, receive significantly higher grades than boys on both school-based assessments and provincial examinations in the critical subject area, English language arts.
During the six years covered by this study, girls, on average, significantly out-performed their male counterparts in English language arts. Chart 1 provides the details. For each school year, the average school and examination marks in percentage points are shown. The columns plot the by-gender school marks and the lines plot the by-gender examination marks. As the chart shows, while over-all performance in English 12 has varied from year to year, results have remained strongly positive in favour of the girls. The consistency and strength of this female advantage is of particular significance when it is remembered that successful completion of English 12 is required of most students for graduation. 14 Since participation is required, no self-selection is possible. Hence, results in English language arts provide the most complete picture of differential performance between boys and girls.
Girls Receive Higher Grades on School-based Assessments
Girls receive higher grades on school-based assessments in all subjects regardless of their relative performance on the provincial examinations. The general rule seems to be that if an assessment or award is made at the school level, girls achieve better results than boys do. A close look at the relationship between school marks and examination marks in all subject areas is striking. Chart 2 compares examination and school marks for boys and girls during the same six-year period. It shows the difference between the results for boys and girls in percentage points for each of the eight most popular provincially examinable courses. One set of bars indicates the gender-based difference in the school mark awarded and the other indicates the gender-based difference in the examination mark awarded. A value of zero would indicate perfect gender balance in the result. Where boys are favoured by a difference, the bar extends to the left of zero. Where girls are favoured it extends to the right.
Girls substantially out-scored boys on the English 12 examination; girls were only marginally better on the French and Physics examinations; they were marginally out-performed by the boys in Mathematics and Biology; and they were more significantly out-performed in Chemistry, Geography, and History. 15 Yet, the girls outperformed the boys on the school mark in every one of these subjects.
Girls and Boys Do about the Same
If the popular perception that girls do relatively poorly in Mathematics was ever true, the situation has certainly changed.
Chart 3 gives the details of the average by-gender results in Mathematics over the six-year study period. The difference between boys and girls (in percentage points) is shown for each of the five specific results for Mathematics 12: Participation Rate, Average Mark, Failure Rate, Honours Rate, and Standard Deviation. (Note that the participation rate refers only to the provincial final examination.) Again, one set of bars indicates the gender-based difference in the school mark awarded and the other indicates the gender-based difference in the examination mark awarded.
While it is still the case that a greater proportion of boys take Mathematics 12 than do their female counterparts, the by-gender examination results are reasonably close. Indeed, the difference in examination marks has favoured the boys by less than one percentage point during the study period. While girls failed less frequently than did boys on the examination, the boys achieved a higher percentage of honours marks than did the girls.
Not shown in Chart 3 is the improvement in girls' average examination scores relative to those of the boys. Girls improved their average score faster than boys during the study period. In fact, in 1997 and 1998, the girls actually achieved higher average scores on the Mathematics 12 provincial examinations than did the boys.
As expected, the school-based Mathematics results favour the girls. Notice particularly the Honours rate. This measures the percentage of students receiving either an A or a B grade. While boys were awarded slightly more honours grades on the examinations, girls received considerably more honours grades on the school mark.
Boys Are Not Graduating with Their Class
In order to graduate, students in British Columbia must meet certain conditions set by the Ministry of Education. The determination of each student's eligibility to graduate is largely the result of school-based assessments. School marks account for 60 percent of the final mark on provincially examinable courses and 100 percent of the final mark in all other courses. Thus, if our previous findings hold--that female students fare better when the assessment or award is school-based--then females should graduate with higher frequency than males.
Chart 4 shows that this is the case. It plots the graduation rate (as a percent of enrollment) for each of the school years. The columns report the female results; the line reports the male results.
Females have had a significantly higher rate of graduation over the study period. The particular graduation rate illustrated here calculates that proportion of the Grade-12 students enrolled on September 30 who should, by reason of their previous success, and given normal progress through Grade 12, actually graduate with their class. A substantial difference in this outcome based on gender is, for this reason, puzzling. Why are boys dropping out in their final year at a rate significantly greater than are girls? 16
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|Last Modified: Thursday, May 20, 1999.|