Study: Boys with Equal Ability Get Lower Grades Than Girls

Published February 1, 2013

Girls get higher grades because they are less trouble in class, a new study has found.

University of Georgia and Columbia University researchers found girls’ classroom behavior influences how their teachers—consciously or unconsciously—assess their performance

Christopher Cornwell, David Mustard, and Jessica Van Parys combed through the results of reading, math, and science standardized tests from nearly 6,000 elementary students and compared those to the students’ classroom progress.

Although girls outscored boys in reading, the data revealed “gender disparities in teacher grades start early and uniformly favor girls. In every subject area, boys are represented in grade distributions below where their test scores would predict.”

Reason: Better Attitudes
The reason for this apparent bias, the researchers say, is girls’ strength in noncognitive skills.

“You can think of ‘approaches to learning’ as a rough measure of what a child’s attitude toward school is. It includes six items that rate the child’s attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility, and organization,” Cornwell said in a press statement. “Anybody who’s a parent of boys and girls can tell you that girls are more of all of that.”

Case for Education Diversity
Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Independent Women’s Forum and mother of two daughters and one son, says the researchers make a compelling case for education diversity.

“We know that girls and boys play differently, learn differently, and have a range of strengths, aptitudes, and interests,” Schaeffer said. “Still we continue to encourage a one-size-fits-all public school system that works to educate all children in exactly the same way. This research shows that girls are clearly more suited for the traditional classroom setting, while boys would likely benefit from an alternative structure.”

Given the high percentage of women who are elementary school teachers, as the study notes, those who teach young men may need to reevaluate their assumptions about boys and girls. Parents of young boys may want to delay formal schooling for a more relaxed online model or send their child to a same-sex school, Schaeffer said.

Learn more:
“Non-cognitive Skills and the Gender Disparities in Test Scores and Teacher Assessments: Evidence from Primary School,” by Christopher M. Cornwell, David B. Mustard, and Jessica Van Parys, February 2012:

“The Boys at the Back,” Christina Hoff Sommers, New York Times:  


Image by Judy Baxter.