Liz Eley

The detailed information obtained by NEMP on student performance across a wide range of assessment activities allows us to examine differences in achievement between boys and girls. Twelve different areas of the New Zealand school curriculum have been assessed by NEMP and, contrary to the reporting of other research, the results do not present a blanket picture of under-achievement by boys. However, the difference in achievement in literacy areas is of particular concern. In all aspects of literacy assessed by NEMP (reading, speaking, writing, listening and viewing) girls outperform boys. This study looked specifically at the difference in performance between boys and girls in the 2000 NEMP assessment of reading.

Three aspects of student reading were examined. The first, reading accuracy, was ascertained from the NEMP oral reading record task, which required students to read from fiction, non-fiction and non-book texts. Here, student achievement was reported in broad reading ‘levels’ rather than the more precise information gathered by teachers to inform reading instruction.

The second aspect required students to silently read passages of text then locate, recall or deduce information from the text to answer questions. The third, students’ oral presentations of written texts, involved teams of four students presenting plays, reading poetry or telling jokes and riddles. Individual performances within each team were then assessed.
• Although 80% of students had the technical skills to read at or above levels regarded as normal for their time at school, at both age groups (Years 4 and 8) girls were reading at higher levels than boys.
• The gap in boys’ and girls’ performance in reading levels widened between Years 4 and 8.
• Girls were more successful than boys in obtaining information from text and were more likely to give fuller responses to questions requiring more than one piece of information.
• In the oral presentations of text, girls at both age groups had a higher accuracy level than boys.
• Girls obtained higher scores than boys when their oral presentations were judged for clarity of presentation and for characterisation or expressiveness in reading.

Girls are reading at higher levels and more accurately than boys. They are also better able to gain information from text, particularly where responses require more than one piece of information. The biggest differences in performance are in oral presentations, with girls reading more accurately, with greater clarity and with more expression. While this information gives guidance for teachers in tailoring reading programmes for individual needs, it needs to be remembered that New Zealand students are experiencing high success in reading.

Also, other studies have concluded that boys seem to be reluctant to expend sustained effort to achieve deep understandings. They tend to seek correct answers quickly. Given these considerations and that students are reading at or above the level expected for their age, highlighting the difference in performance by labelling boys as reading failures is misguided.
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