Gender gaps in reading, writing skills not fully explained by learning disabilities

Gender gaps in reading, writing skills not fully explained by learning disabilities

Boys fall behind girls in reading and writing achievement starting in fourth grade, according to a study that suggests the difference may relate to rates of learning disorders and similar challenges, by gender.

The study, by researchers in Australia, drew on national educational assessment data measuring reading and writing competency for three decades. The results, published in the journal American Psychologist, found that for both skills, girls performed higher as the children aged. By the end of high school, for example, a female student had a 58 percent chance of scoring average or better in reading ability. For a male student, the chance was significantly lower: just 42 percent.

In younger kids and lower achievement levels, girls outdid boys in reading, and the writing variance was even greater. The authors said the reading accomplishment gap was greater than those for math and science ability, according to the same dataset.

Boys are more likely to have reading or learning disabilities, as well as attention disorders, but the authors said this may play a role in the gender gaps they found. The disparity highlights, especially, a need to focus more on writing in the classroom, which would benefit low-performing students of both genders.

Further research on differences in areas such as learning styles and rates of intellectual development may hint at causes of the gender gaps in reading and writing. Meanwhile, teachers, pediatricians and parents should pay attention especially to boys’ achievement in these academic areas. They are, after all, the foundation to a well-rounded education.

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