More on... Schoolgirls excel at exams
The February 1997 issue of WISENET Journal (number 43) included my article commenting on girls’ results in New South Wales’s Higher School Certificate exams. These showed girls out-performing boys in almost every subject, a trend evident and growing for a number of years.
This phenomenon seems to be common across Australia and perhaps world-wide. Why?
The NSW Board of Studies Gender Project Steering Committee in 1996 investigated reasons for this difference in performance. They asked: Was it because of changes to the HSC system? Increased retention levels at schools? Differences in socioeconomic status? Patterns of courses studied? Changes in calculation rules for tertiary entrance scores?
The Report of the Gender Project Steering Committee says no single or simple explanation accounts for the increasing differences seen in the accompanying graph of NSW tertiary entrance score, by gender, from 1981 to 1995. The difference of 19.7 points between the female and males scores in 1995 was maintained in 1996.
The Report includes a section on trends across Australian states. The data reveal considerable differences between states in the pattern and extent of gender differences over the past few years. The NSW pattern was repeated in Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and perhaps Victoria (Victorian results, available only for 1995, showed female scores well ahead of male scores). Data for South Australia and Western Australia were also difficult to compare with NSW because of different systems, but graphs for tertiary entrance aggregates in those two states since 1993 show negligible gender differences. Western Australian results were also provided for the Australian Scaling Test 1991-95 (not a tertiary entrance score), in which males out-performed females.
Education experts agree that the increasingly high exam performance of girls is a modern phenomenon with no simple explanation. It is hypothesised that girls study better than boys and may spend less time on sporting and other diversions. But school success of girls has not yet changed women’s narrow range of post-school options. In future years we must hope that some of these high-performing girls may hold important positions above today’s glass ceiling.
Thanks to Mr John Cook and Dr Robert MacCann of the NSW Board of Studies for supplying the Report and additional information.