Achievement gap refers to the observed disparity on a number of educational measures between the performance of groups of students. The achievement gap can be observed on a variety of measures, including standardized test scores, grade point average, dropout rates, and college-enrollment and -completion rates.
Many of the experts cited in articles on the subject caution, however, that studies on gender differences may be deceiving because there is actually a huge overlap between boys' and girls' skills. Barnett and Rivers (2006) pointed out that, until quite recently, boys often outperformed girls in many areas in which they are now believed to be innately weaker.
Gender becomes a factor in classroom instruction when the teacher creates a learning environment that favors the success of either boys or girls. Most of the time the teacher's favoritism is subtle and unintentional, and historically, certain subject areas have tended to be problematic in terms of gender favoritism. Two curricular areas where gender is problematic are science and technology
Though tests of general intelligence suggest no overall differences between men and women, there are large gender differences in scores on specific cognitive tasks. Men perform better at certain spatial visual tasks; women excel verbally. While these differences may someday be traced back to known differences in hormonal exposure and male and female brain structures, it is also possible that differences in academic development arise from the fact that male and female teachers have a tendency to treat boys and girls differently in the classroom.
Teachers have not exhibited the most respectable track record when it comes to data recording their behaviors towards male and female students. Numerous studies have shown that 1) boys get teachers attention by being straightforward and unreserved 2) Teachers praise boys more often, 3) Boys receive more academic help and 4) teachers are more likely to accept boys' ideas or opinions during classroom discussion.
Currently, males use computing technologies more often than girls. Boys use computers as toys while girls use computers to accomplish tasks (Gilley, 2002). Research shows that girls are just as capable as boys at handling computer technology and that boys tend to receive greater encouragement from parents and teachers to pursue computer interests than girls (Margolis & Fisher, 2001).
For example, while both male and female students choose business over any other college major, women are less likely than men to get degrees in engineering, the physical sciences, and computer sciences, which have all been traditionally seen as male disciplines (Yuplin et al. 2000). Jacobs (1995) noted that 30% of women have to change their college majors for women to be distributed in the same manner as men.
Most studies show that, on average, girls do better in school than boys. Girls get higher grades and complete high school at a higher rate compared to boys (Jacobs, 2002). Standardized achievement tests also show that females are better at spelling and perform better on tests of literacy, writing, and general knowledge (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). An international aptitude test administered to fourth graders in 35 countries, for example, showed that females outscored males on reading literacy in every country.
Males also perform better on mathematical achievement tests than females. However, gender differences do not apply to all aspects of mathematical skill. Males and females do equally well in basic math knowledge, and girls actually have better computational skills. Performance in mathematical reasoning and geometry shows the greatest difference (Fennema, Sowder, & Carpenter, 1999). Males also display greater confidence in their math skills, which is a strong predictor of math performance (Casey, Nuttall, & Pezaris, 2001).
Overall, the data suggest that, "a large fraction of boys' dramatic underperformance in reading reflects the classroom dynamics associated with the fact that their reading teachers are overwhelmingly female." According to the U.S. Department of Education's 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, 91 percent of the nation's sixth grade reading teachers, and 83 percent of eighth grade reading teachers are female. This depresses boys' achievement.
Even with these obstacles, female students excel in school; they repeat grades less often do than male students, have higher graduation rates from high school, and are more likely to attain bachelor's degrees (Jacobs 1996). This puzzle was addressed by Mickelson (1989), who noted that female students' achievement in school seems anomalous because the rewards associated with schooling are still lower than those for male students.