IPP Policy Brief n°14 - December 2014

A helping hand for girls? Gender bias in marks and its effect on student progress

note-ipp-14-terrier-biais-notesIPP Policy Brief n°14

December 2014

Author : Camille Terrier

Contacts: camille.terrier@ipp.eu, julien.grenet@ipp.eu

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logo-pdf-min-2A helping hand for girls? Gender bias in marks and its effect on student progress

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Summary

In France, when girls start junior high school, their marks are higher than those of boys in French, but lower in mathematics.This latter gap soon closes, however, and by the last year of junior high school, girls do as well as boys in maths. This IPP Note offers an explanation for these differential success rates and how they change over time, through the consideration of two questions: is there gender bias in how teachers grade pupils? And does any such bias affect the progress of girls compared with boys?

Analysis of marks given both anonymously and not, to students1 in the first year of junior high school reveals positive discrimination for girls in maths but an absence of gender bias in French: for similar anonymous marks, girls receive higher marks from their maths teachers than boys. The less disruptive behaviour of girls in class does not seem to explain this ‘helping hand’. We then show that in maths, the classes in which teachers show greatest bias in favour of girls are also the classes in which girls progress the most relative to boys. This finding is in line with other research highlighting that grading practices affect pupils’ motivation and progress. It is also a possible explanation for the reduction in differential achievements in maths observed between girls and boys during junior high school

Key points:

  • In this sample, the grades that 6th grade teachers give in maths seem to indicate a bias in favour of girls, who gain on average six per cent more than boys, for similar anonymous grades. No bias is observed in French.
  • Girls’ better behaviour in class is not behind this nudge forwards.
  • In maths, the classes in which teachers exhibit the greatest discrimination in favour of girls are also the classes in which the girls progress the most relative to the boys. In the absence of bias, the girls would neither have progressed more than boys, nor caught up with them.

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