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The Unnecessary Lag in Boys’ Achievement

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Article by Chief Executive Officer, Marguerite Jackson

November 2010

The urgency of the need to attend to boys’ academic achievement, right from the earliest years, has never been more apparent. Tracking results on province-wide tests as students progress through school has unequivocally shown that those who do not meet expected levels of achievement early are more likely to struggle in later grades.

For 15 years, the evidence has been in front of us—boys lag behind girls in literacy, a skill necessary for successful learning. Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) has been helping inform discussions about gender and literacy and numeracy by tracking and quantifying the gap between boys’ and girls’ achievement, collecting data on student perceptions, conducting case studies in schools and providing research and analyses on gender achievement.

EQAO’s research shows that schools where boys and girls are mastering skills at the expected levels equally frequently demonstrate some similar characteristics including common understanding among teachers, parents and students of what literacy looks like at each level; regular monitoring of progress and achievement in relation to agreed-upon expectations; and supportive adult interventions at each stage of learning.

A recent study conducted by EQAO, Towards an Understanding of Gender Differences in Literacy Achievement, included a look at elementary schools where there was little gap in achievement between boys and girls. In schools where both boys and girls are mastering the core literacy skills, a positive school culture that focuses on learning for all students was consistently described as an important factor in enabling student success. Such a climate was instituted through high academic, social and behavioural expectations, positive role models and a positive, caring school community.

EQAO’s annual survey of students in Grade 3 and Grade 6 provides additional insights into differences between boys and girls activities, which may go a long way toward an understanding of the differences in their achievement. Among the most revealing findings is the difference in the amount of time boys and girls report reading outside the classroom. This year almost two-thirds of Grade 3 girls (64%) said they read by themselves almost every day outside school. By contrast, only 50% of the boys reported doing the same. This is one area in which parental engagement and support can be influential in the development of literacy skills.

Educational leadership that is knowledgeable of the curriculum and of a variety of instructional and assessment strategies is a factor that has a significant impact on the achievement gap between boys and girls. In EQAO’s study, the schools where boys and girls achieved on par were typically those that used a variety of instructional approaches to meet the different learning needs of all their students.

Parents and teachers are the critical partners in educating our children. Clarity about reasonable expectations for learning and achievement, regular monitoring and appropriate adult interventions propel all students toward success. The good news, documented by EQAO’s research, is that early recognition and support at school and at home makes all the difference.

A generation ago, girls trailed far behind boys in science and mathematics. A concerted effort by educators and parents turned this around. We now have the same social imperative to eliminate the imbalance in boys’ achievement. It can be done.

Marguerite Jackson is EQAO’s Chief Executive Officer. To view the full research report “Toward an Understanding of Gender Differences in Literacy Achievement,” and much other helpful information, visit the research section of EQAO’s Web site.

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