Testing reveals performance gap in students

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(Host) According to the latest results of statewide student testing in Vermont, there’s a growing performance gap between male and female students in grades 3 through 8.

In every grade, girls outperformed boys in reading and writing skills by a significant margin and the gap grows wider as the students get older.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The results are based on the testing of over 41,000 Vermont students last year.

Overall, roughly two thirds of the students met or exceeded a standard of proficiency in math and reading, but in writing, only 48% of the students reached that standard.

Education commissioner Richard Cate says the results highlight a serious problem that needs to be addressed at the state and local level.

Cate thinks the low test results in writing may be linked to the use of computers by many students.

(Cate) “It is a significant problem. And again, I’m not trying to blame everything in this world. But the bottom line is there’s a lot of communication that children have access to now that was not previously available in terms of email. And quite often when I read how they communicate via email – there isn’t any sentence structure. There’s no punctuation. There’s no grammar. There are codes for words. So off line, outside of school, it’s not as if they’re practicing their writing.”

(Kinzel) Cate says one of his biggest concerns is the growing performance gap between girls and boys particularly in the areas of reading and writing.

For instance, the combined reading scores of all students in grades 3 through 8 show that 73% of the girls reached the standard while only 64 % of the boys did.

The gap in writing is even more pronounced. While 60 % of the girls reached a level of proficiency just 38 % of the boys did.
Cate says this gender gap grows as the students enter high school.

(Cate) “I think part of the problem is that much of this stems from external forces outside the classroom. All these distractions and the culture that we live in created part of this problem. There’s a reduction in the college rate of males. There’s a reduction in the college graduation rate of males. Meanwhile the number for girls are increasing. The gap widens the older you get.”

(Kinzel) Cate has some theories about why the gender gap exists as early as the third grade:

(Cate) “There’s something going on in terms of learning styles. And again I don’t think anybody knows for sure. But clearly, when I go into classrooms, the boys on average seem much more distracted, are engaged in more banter back and forth or are more focused on the football game or the latest video game or something like that.”

(Kinzel) Cate says he’s also concerned that efforts to improve test scores for lower income students appear to have had little impact over the last year.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

(Host) Those test results mark the second year that Vermont has joined with New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island to offer a common assessment program to students in the four states.

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