Reading superiority in girls starts early, Naplan study finds

NAPLAN: paper or computer?

Year 3 students from St. Anthony's in Girraween have mixed feelings about the NAPLAN's move to digital.

Girls are better at literacy and reading from the age of four but boys aren't any better at maths until they turn eight, a new study of NAPLAN and school readiness test data has found.

The study also found that better performance in literacy was limited to girls from low and middle socioeconomic backgrounds, and only boys from high socioeconomic families did better in numeracy.

"If you just look at the [NAPLAN] statistics without looking at socioeconomic factors, it would suggest that this is just a natural difference," said Dr Julie Moschion, a senior research fellow at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research, and a co-author of the study, published in the Journal of Population Economics this month.

Online NAPLAN tests were supposed to begin this year, but the states and territories pulled out, citing concerns about ...
Online NAPLAN tests were supposed to begin this year, but the states and territories pulled out, citing concerns about technological glitches. 

On average across Australia, boys score 12 points higher than girls in numeracy in the year 3 NAPLAN test, and girls score nine points higher in literacy.

"But when you look deeper, it's not that simple," Dr Moschion said.

"If boys are just better at maths, boys from low and middle socioeconomic backgrounds would also do better."

The study also found that the advantage boys from high socioeconomic backgrounds have in maths doesn't appear until about the age of 8, while four-year-old girls already perform better in literacy and reading in school readiness tests.

This has implications for both parents and teachers, Dr Moschion said.

"Girls' advantage in reading starts before they go to school, which suggests that to reduce this gap, the solution may be at home with parents reading more to boys," she said.

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"In contrast, boys' advantage in numeracy appears after students start school, so it's pretty fair to say it's generated at school. 

"I'm not able to tell you how much gendered teaching practices have an impact here but we can probably safety say this contributes."

The paper found the gap could lead to higher drop-out rates and employment issues for boys and lower participation rates in high-earning STEM roles for girls.

The Australian research aligns with similar findings by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development across other developed countries.

A separate study found boys' and girls' behaviour at home and in the early years of school could affect their performance in literacy and reading and later success.

Girls are far better at paying attention, staying on task and working independently from kindergarten while boys tend to be hyperactive and have problems with conduct, according to the study, which was published in the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood this month.

Study co-author Professor Susan Walker, from the Queensland University of Technology , said the difference could come down to what parents do before their children start school.

"When parents read to children they tend to do better at language in school," Professor Walker said.

"We're seeing that girls are spending more time in that activity.

"Once you have a grasp of language and literacy you can use that in everything, so the gap could have a detrimental effect across all areas of learning [for boys]."

In maths, teachers giving more positive feedback to boys could lead to the numeracy gap that emerges in year 3, Professor Walker said.

"The way boys and girls are perceived and the feedback they get becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," she said.