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.