New study shows grading bias

Originally posted on February 21, 2012

A new study from England reveals a grading bias in English schools. Boys assume that female teachers will grade them more harshly than they do girls, and the study found that was quite true:

Ground-breaking research shows that boys lower their sights if they think their work is going to be marked by a woman because they believe their results will be worse.

It also shows their suspicions are correct – female teachers did, on average, award lower marks to boys than unidentified external examiners. Male teachers, by contrast, awarded them higher marks than external examiners.

The Students’ Perceptions of Teacher Biases: Experimental Economics in Schools study was designed to determine what biases exist in the school system and how they impact students’ performances. The researchers found that racial and economic biases played little to no role in how teachers graded students. However, they did find that gender biases played a significant role. 

The researchers gave the students £4 which they could keep or use to bet on how their performance would be graded. Half the students were graded anonymously while the other half were graded by their teachers. The students graded by their teachers were told this, and they bet accordingly. The results revealed that:

Male students tend to bet less when assessed by a female teacher than by an external examiner or by a male teacher. This is consistent with female teachers’ grading practices; female teachers give lower grades to male students. Female students bet more when assessed by a male teacher than when assessed by an external examiner or a female teacher. Female students’ behavior is not consistent with male teachers’ grading practices, since male teachers tend to reward male students more than female students.

According to the numbers:

When graded by a male teacher, female students tended to buy 0.843 more question when graded by the teacher than when graded by the external examiner. The treatment effect is statistically significant at 5%. When graded by a female teacher, male students tended to buy 0.601 less question than when graded by the external examiner. Overall, since the number of female teachers was higher than the number of male teachers, students graded by a male teacher bought significantly more questions in the non anonymous condition than in the anonymous condition (+0.576).

Even though the researchers found that teachers were more likely to give higher points than the external examiners, they still found that female teachers were more likely to give lower grades to male students than female students and those boys were aware of this bias. They also found that teachers were more lenient with students of the same sex.

The researchers concluded that this bias may stem primarily from English and humanities courses, as those courses are boys’ worst subjects and are typically taught by female teachers. The potential is that even though the bias seems geared around those subjects, boys may assume all female teachers will grade them more harshly and therefore put in less effort when dealing with female teachers.

Curiously, these findings are not new. According to the introduction of the study, several other studies revealed the gender biases. What this study reveals is that students are aware of this bias, something scores of people have said for years. Plenty of people have decried the “boy crisis” in schools, citing preferential treatment for female students. Many people have mocked those complaints, framing it as an attempt to undermine girls’ academic achievements. However, this study shows that those concerns are indeed valid.

The question is what do we do about it. Adding more male teachers is a start, although we would still have to deal with their favoritism of male students. What we really must address is female teachers’ bias against boys, specifically whether their methods of teaching hinder boys’ ability or desire to achieve academic success. The vast majority of teachers are women, and there are not going anywhere anytime soon. The sooner we address that issue, the better off boys will be.

About these ads

25 thoughts on “New study shows grading bias

  1. I was a teacher, and I probably did have a bias. Males students chose not to perform to a higher standard in my classroom, and this is probably the same situation in other classrooms as well.

    I had curriculum that I had to teach and state standards that needed to be assessed, so if a student chose not to pay attention in my class, then his or her grade would consequently suffer.

  2. It mentions in that article that male teachers are more favourable to boys in their marking. I’m sort of curious as to what extent. More than female teachers penalise boys?
    While it’s not exactly news that female teachers don’t particularly like teaching boys at least now there’s something approaching statistical confirmation. .

  3. Brielle, the study suggests that boys assume that female teachers will give them lower marks, so it is possible that boys chose not to work harder under the assumption that no matter what effort they put in they would get lower grades.

  4. In the article it states that with regards to females “the male teachers tended to give them exactly the same marks as the external examiners”. Basically the male teachers did not grade the females in a way that was biased against females because the females received the same marks as they did from male teachers as they did from the unidentified external examiners.

  5. I remmember once in my english teacher (I am from Dominican Republic), a female, mandated to me to lower the legs from the chair in front to me, saying that that was bad, however, one day two females did that same thing, me and other students, including a girl too, complained about the inconsistency how she interpreted me doing that as bad but allowed them to do it …. her answer ? As I can recall something like “Ahh.. nevermind … today it’s a hard day … relax …Leo, relax ….” One of the cheapest excuses I have ever heard, I took it as “fuck you, you are a peice of shit and they aren’t. I do whatever the fuck I want.”

  6. Toysoldier on February 21, 2012 at 5:28 pm said:
    Brielle, the study suggests that boys assume that female teachers will give them lower marks, so it is possible that boys chose not to work harder under the assumption that no matter what effort they put in they would get lower grades.

    Assumptions will harm people always. I could assume every person was out to kill me; I would not trust anyone. On the other hand, I could assume that everyone had my best intentions in the forefront of their mind, then I would trust everyone and probably be killed.
    What I am really wondering though is where these assumptions stem from because honestly I tried to teach the state standards and not dumb it down. So, if you are expected to work in school and you decide that the expectations are too high, then you are out of luck because standards are what teachers can get fired for if they are not performing correctly.

    Getting off of standards and assumptions, I think there is more to poor performance in the classroom other than what a student thinks his or her grade should be. They see a teacher for about 45 minutes a day. So many other facts affect their life other than that 45 minute interval. Poor performance might stem from video games that consume time, sports that are too precious or ladies that are too lovely and these things are way more important than 45 minutes of math with ms. Kline.

  7. What I am really wondering though is where these assumptions stem from because honestly I tried to teach the state standards and not dumb it down.

    Brielle, this was covered in the study. The researchers noted that boys typically scores lower on English and humanities tests. This is likely known to teachers, who may then change how they score male students. It is not necessarily conscious. It may be the teachers figuring that since boys generally score lower than girls that the boys’ answers are inherently wrong.

    However, there is also the issue of how the subject matter is approached. Most of my friends are male, and I do not know many males who have trouble remembering facts, stats, or random information. Most of my godson’s friends can rattle off special moves from their favorite anime shows and none of them actually speak Japanese. How is it that these 12-year-olds can remember two dozen names of shi kai from Bleach but are apparently incapable of passing tests? They clearly are not stupid, so it is likely something to do with the subject matter itself, how it is taught, and whether boys want to put the effort into it.

    The latter cannot be changed if the first two remain the same. No one is going to try harder if they know that the teachers will not grade them fairly and if they find the subject matter boring. It is easy to say boys are not putting in the effort, but are teachers giving them any reason to or are they sending boys the message that it does not matter how hard they try because as boys they will fail anyway.

  8. I think you’re blatantly missing the point here, Brielle. The boys performance appears to be fine, as demonstrated by the control (the external examiners). The difference shown comes purely from the fact that the teacher was female. Whether the assumption that the teacher would mark them lower caused them not to try as hard or not is a pointless question – the fact remains that something has brought about that point of view, and it clearly seems to sit squarely on gender lines.

    The study shows a clear problem coming from gendered lines from the teachers and it needs to be determined and treated, not handwaved away as students choosing not to participate.

  9. The difference shown comes purely from the fact that the teacher was female.

    It would appear so from the study, RexRox. However, the researchers noted in their conclusion that the result my come from the subjects being taught by the teachers and not necessarily the teachers themselves, at least initially. Over time it is clear that female teachers score boys much lower than they do girls.

  10. How is it that these 12-year-olds can remember two dozen names of shi kai from Bleach but are apparently incapable of passing tests? They clearly are not stupid, so it is likely something to do with the subject matter itself, how it is taught, and whether boys want to put the effort into it

    They are clearly not stupid, but I dont think changing a masterpiece like Shakespeare and maybe making out all the characters to be points of interest to male 12 year olds like shi Kai is the correct way to go. Maybe you think making Abe Lincoln a vampire hunter would appeal to history classes across the US.

    I am actually wondering if this study only applies in the US because that makes me wonder either about teachers in the us, us standards of education and children in the us.

    Sorry if there are typos; this was typed on an iPad.

  11. There are a bunch of different issues, unperceived bias, falsely perceived bias, correctly perceived bias, motivation to perform effected by bias and perceived bias, but isn’t this consistent with everyone operating with acknowledged anti-male discrimination? The male teachers are compensating by advancing the boys, the boys are discouraged/unmotivated with female teachers due to bias, the girls see male teachers as owing them advantage and take it, Brielle blames the boys, …

    My question is how does bias, perceived bias change motivation and performance. Is it self-fulfilling, over represented or under?

  12. I was once working at a wholefoods store as a cashier and the manager was a female, I am a male. There was a female cashier who would often be talking to people and take random breaks and the female manager never criticized for it. I was a very consistent worker there. So one time a friend of mine stopped by and so we chatted for a minute and I figured it was ok since a female cashier was doing it constantly. Then the female manager really criticized me for it and I only talked about a minute or two with my friend.

  13. Brielle, my point is that clearly boys will read books that interest them, and they will remember what they read. Shakespeare is a work of art, but it is not the only one. There is no harm in using modern stories written in a form of English kids do not need Cliff Notes to understand. But on a broader level, I think it shows that too many educators are missing the point of educating. The best way to teach people is using things those people are familiar with. Ir makes no sense to ignore boys’ interests in favor of appealing to some literary sophistry.

    The study was conducted in the UK. I would suspect that the results would be the same if it was conducted in the States.

  14. Brille: “They are clearly not stupid, but I dont think changing a masterpiece like Shakespeare and maybe making out all the characters to be points of interest to male 12 year olds like shi Kai is the correct way to go.”

    Shakespeare plays have been adapted in many forms, especially in the movies. Not all of them are set in the times they were written. Take “Hamlet” for example, there was an adaption that was set in modern times and the “To Be Or Not To Be” speech was done at a Blockbuster Store. Yet, audiences still loved it.

    Don’t forget Romeo And Juliet made into a movie by Baz Luherman. He set it in modern times, replaced swords with guns, etc. It was successful as well.

    Contrary to what you believe Brille, Shakespeare can be changed somewhat to appeal to people without losing its origins.

    Brille: “Maybe you think making Abe Lincoln a vampire hunter would appeal to history classes across the US.”

    No he’s not. He’s saying to tailor the subject material so it appeals to them.

    You know, I hate this snobby attitude in general to what boys like. You may think there’s no value in video games, Brille, or in what boys read but let me tell you, there are video games out there with well written dialogue and plotlines like the Metal Gear Solid series, The Darkness, Max Payne series.

    God, I hate this. “Video games are a waste of time”. Jeeze.

  15. Boys do seem to have developed an attitude of “Reading is boring and gay” and forcing them to read something 150-500 years old can’t be helping.
    Of course finding something more current that could actually interest boys would piss off the teaching establishment no end. Male heroes? That would never do.

  16. Big D, most of the boys and men I know do read. What they read varies, but all of them read. So it is not reading itself, but what you read. And even some of the things boys might initially mock they may end up liking once they get the story. I found Finding Richard, Al Pacino’s documentary about Richard III, far more interesting than just watching the play. Why? Because he spent two hours explaining what the hell is happening. Once it makes sense, it is actually a really good story.

  17. “Brielle, my point is that clearly boys will read books that interest them, and they will remember what they read. Shakespeare is a work of art, but it is not the only one.’

    Indeed. And if they have stopped, there has to be a reason. How well and how much do boys read in classes taught by male teachers, Brielle?

    Romeo and Juliet is a case in point. A teacher can emphasize the aspects of the story that deal with the gang violence between the Capulets and the Monatgues, or she/he can dwell on all that venereal slush. Or as an alternative a teacher might try to balance the time and emphasis put on both. Do you think that might have an effect on student interest?

  18. I am interested in this study, I am currently working on the proposal for my dissertation to identify if there is teacher bias in grading. Is it possible to obtain a copy of the complete report?

  19. I’m late to the party but I’ll explain for myself how I learn, I am a male for interests sake. When I applied myself, I was good at biology, horticulture, math, science, computer studies. In my final years at highschool I was very depressed and the subjects I found boring such as…every subjec apart from computer studies, my grades slipped, but in computer studies I was very interested still in the subject and my grades remained good, infact I use to do the work much quicker than most others. In my life any subject I am interested in I do better at usually, recently photography has been my passion and I’ve self-taught myself a huge amount of it. I find it so much easier to learn photography than I do English because of my interest. I also have ADHD and it can be hard to stay focused on topics especially if they bore me so this probably inhibits my learning.

    Maybe we simply just need to engage boys more, get them more interested. Shakespear bothered me because of the odd langauge, but if the book was something like a spy/action book with modern language I probably would have been far more interested.

  20. As someone who has direct experience of this situation (female teacher, male student, humanities class), and being from the UK, I do think this kind of thing happens a lot. I was one of three male students in an English class numbering around twenty, and our teacher basically acted as if it was an inconvenience to her to have us there. She did eventually give me a good mark on essay I wrote, but the general impression of us not being entirely welcome remained. The fact that she made us read an essay by Andrea Dworkin didn’t exactly help, either.

    However, we did have another female English teacher who was much more fair in how she treated the class as a whole. So I get the feeling that stuff like this would go to some extent on a teacher to teacher basis, but with the general trend being that stated by the article.

  21. Some teachers just aren’t interested in boys. I’ve had a few like that, where papers written by females would score higher, they were called more often, and other things. I didn’t try in that class because I knew I would be praised for my effort. Then when I made a nearly perfect grade on a writing test, she accused me of cheating.

  22. Pingback: Girls, boys, and gender bias in school | Toy Soldiers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s