Education and Skills

These test formats favour different genders

Students take a university entrance examination at a lecture hall in the Andalusian capital of Seville, southern Spain, September 15, 2009. Students in Spain must pass the exam after completing secondary school in order to gain access to university. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo (SPAIN EDUCATION SOCIETY) - GM1E59F1FFW01

Should girls and boys be examined differently? Image: REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

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When taking standardized tests, girls perform better with open-ended questions, but boys score higher on multiple choice, research shows.

The new study in Educational Researcher shows test format explains about 25 percent of the variation in state- and district-level gender achievement gaps in the United States.

The association appears stronger in English language arts than in math, researchers say, but the differences are not statistically significant.

Test developers and educators will need to attend more carefully to the mix of item types and the multidimensional sets of skills measured by tests, researchers say.

Policymakers, too, will need to be aware of how states’ use of different test formats or emphasis on different skills may influence cross-state comparisons of gender gaps and funding decisions based on those results.

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“The evidence that how male and female students are tested changes the perception of their relative ability in both math and ELA suggests that we must be concerned with questions of test fairness and validity,” says Sean Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education at Stanford Graduate School of Education and a senior fellow at Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

“Does the assessment measure the intended skills? Does it produce consistent scores for different student subgroups? Is the assessment appropriate for its intended use?”

Researchers used scores of roughly 8 million students tested in fourth and eighth grades in math and reading/ELA in 47 states during the 2008–09 school year to estimate state- and district-level subject-specific achievement gaps on each state’s accountability tests.

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Education and SkillsEquity, Diversity and Inclusion
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