Thursday, March 03, 2016

Physics teachers grade girls harder than boys

Public Release: 11-Jan-2016
Girls should expect poorer physics grades
ETH Zurich

Imagine that you are a female student and give the exact same answer to a physics exam question as one of your male classmates, but you receive a significantly poorer grade. This is precisely what happens on a regular basis, as concluded in a study by Sarah Hofer, a researcher in the group led by ETH professor Elsbeth Stern.

Hofer asked secondary school physics teachers in an online test to grade an exam answer. She presented 780 participants from Switzerland, Germany and Austria with the same question from the field of classical mechanics and the exact same fictitious - and only partially correct - student answer. The only thing that the ETH scientist varied in the experiment was a short, introductory written statement: half of the trial participants were led to believe that they had to grade an answer from a "male student", the other half "a female student". Hofer left the participants in the dark about the purpose of her study, and instead pretended it related to a cross-comparison of two different methods for correcting exams.

The participants graded the physics task differently. In her analysis, Hofer compared the range of grades of the supposed female students with those of the supposed male students. The good news: for teachers who had taught for at least ten years, the gender of the student had no influence on the grade. The bad news: teachers in Switzerland and Austria who had taught for less than ten years gave the girls a significantly poorer grade than the boys. As an example: teachers with five or less years of professional experience discriminated girls by a grade of 0.7 (Switzerland) and 0.9 (Austria) on average.


Earlier studies have already provided evidence that girls have to work harder for the same grades in science-related subjects, but most of those studies looked at the field of mathematics.


The results of the new study are curious for German secondary school teachers with less than then years of teaching experience: the male teachers graded the girls and boys the same, while the female teachers behaved like their Swiss and Austrian colleagues and graded the girls more poorly. German female teachers with five or less years of experience discriminated the girls by a grade of 0.9 on average.


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