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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Teacher bias may help discourage girls from math, study finds

"Despite all the talk about encouraging girls in math and science, many teachers still harbor unconscious biases that dissuade girls from going into these fields, a new study suggests." according to

Israeli researchers found a gender bias in math grades given to girls and boys at the elementary school level, according to the report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


“Our results suggest that teachers themselves are part of the problem,” said the study’s lead author, Edith Sand, an economist at the Bank of Israel and an instructor at the Tel-Aviv University’s Berglas School of Economics. “They are discouraging girls and encouraging boys to get to a higher level of math and science. So there’s a gender gap in the teachers’ perceptions of their students.”

Sand discovered the gender bias by comparing the results of tests scored by teachers who knew the children and their names, to those graded by outside scorers who weren’t told anything about the identity of the test takers.

What she saw was striking. When teachers knew the children's names and identities, they graded the girls lower in math than the outside grader, while scoring the boys higher. As a test, the researchers checked to see if the same kind of bias was occurring in other school subjects—it wasn’t.

To see if there was any long term fallout from the biased grading, the researchers followed the children all the way through high school. They found that girls who had been downgraded in elementary school were less likely to sign up for advanced math and science courses in high school.

The researchers suspect that the bias is unconscious. “I am sure they are completely unaware of it,” Sand said.

This isn’t the first study to show that girls’ interest in math tends to drop off as they get older, but it may well be the first showing that teacher bias could be part of the problem, said Patrick Tolan, a professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and director of Youth-Nex, the UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development. 

Related link 
Teacher prejudices put girls off math, science, study suggests (by ScienceDaily)


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