Boys’ Achievement: A Synthesis of the Data

Publication Details

The focus of this report is on boys’ participation, engagement and achievement at different levels of education.

Author(s): Learning Policy Frameworks, Ministry of Education

Date Published: December 2007

This chapter reviews evidence from national and international studies and NCEA results, focusing on the core subjects of English, mathematics and science, examining achievement patterns across the schooling years in New Zealand and comparative data from countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) and their partners. 

Key Findings

  • Girls perform better than boys in all literacy measures across all years of schooling.  However, gender differences in reading tend to decrease during secondary schooling whereas gender differences in writing increase through schooling.
  • Literacy differences are also observed in qualification attainment where girls are more likely than boys to gain the literacy requirements for NCEA level 1 and to gain English as a subject at all NCEA levels1 and scholarship.
  • Gender differences in mathematics and science are narrower than those observed in English measures.
  • National and international assessment studies show that there are no significant mathematics gender differences in primary schooling.  During the early years of secondary schooling differences are still small but girls slightly outperform boys, however, this slight advantage is reversed to boys during the last years of compulsory schooling.
  • There are gender differences in mathematics qualification attainment where girls are slightly more likely than boys to gain the numeracy requirements for NCEA level 1 and since the introduction of the NCEA girls are slightly more likely to gain mathematics as a subject at all NCEA levels.  Even though the gender gap increases with increasing NCEA level, males are more likely to gain a mathematics scholarship.
  • Gender differences in science are very small.  In general boys slightly outperform girls across all years of schooling but girls are slightly more likely to gain science as a subject at all NCEA levels.  The gender gap increases with increasing NCEA level but males are more likely to gain a science scholarship.
  • In literacy, mathematics and science New Zealand has considerable variation in student performance but students from both genders and each ethnic group are found in the highest and lowest achieving group.
  • Boys tend to have a wider spread of scores than girls and tend to be over-represented in the lowest achieving group.  This is especially true for Māori and Pasifika boys but the proportions of Māori and Pasifika girls are also a concern.  Gender differences are smaller in the high achieving group with boys tending to be under-represented in this group in literacy but over-represented in mathematics and science.  
  • Higher proportions of male candidates, across all ethnic groupings, receive ‘not achieved’ grades in English, mathematics and science NCEA externally assessed achievement standards.
  • There is evidence that students who have more positive attitudes or higher self-concept towards English measures, mathematics and science tend to score higher than those with negative attitudes or lower self-concept.

5.1. English (Literacy,Reading and Writing)

  • Analysis of results on English measures shows that girls perform better than boys and these differences are evident early on in schooling and persist through all stages of education.
  • The Competent Children, Competent Learners study2 found that girls outperformed boys on early literacy measures at age five, but these differences were not significant.  However, by age six girls were performing much better than boys on all literacy measures.
  • Reading and writing assessment results from the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) for year 4 students shows that there are significant differences between boys and girls in reading and writing, with girls outperforming boys.
  • Gender differences in literacy measures were still evident at age eight from the Competent Learners study.
  • Results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) for year 5 students showed that girls performed significantly higher than boys.  This gender difference was observed between all ethnic groupings, but Pasifika and Asian students had the largest gender gap.  New Zealand had one of the largest gender differences favouring girls observed internationally.  PIRLS assessed two aspects of literacy, reading for literacy purposes and reading for informational purposes.  Both girls and boys performed higher in reading for literacy purposes, but the gender difference was smaller in reading for informational purposes.
  • Reading results from Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning (asTTle) show that both boys and girls increase their mean reading scores from year 5 to year 8, however, girls scored consistently higher than boys.  Over this time period there is evidence that the gender gap decreases.  Gender gaps are evident across all ethnic groupings, and these gaps all decrease from year 5 to year 8.  Pasifika students have the largest gender gap in year 5 but the smallest in year 8 and thus see the largest decrease in the gender gap over primary schooling.
  • Writing results from asTTle show that both boys and girls increase their mean writing scores from year 5 to year 8, however, girls scored consistently higher than boys.  The gender gap in writing is found to increase from year 5 to year 8, this is true of all ethnic groupings.
  • NEMP results for year 8 student’s show that girls in general perform better than boys in reading, but this difference has decreased over time.  In writing girls also perform better than boys but the gender gap has increased over time.
  • Data collected from the Competent Learners study shows that literacy and writing gender differences are evident through the remaining years of compulsory schooling.
  • asTTle reading results show that there is a rapid increase in average achievement from the first year of secondary schooling (year 9 onwards).  At all years girls are still performing better than boys, but the difference between girls and boys average achievement decreases.  This is evident across all ethnic groupings.
  • During secondary schooling (year 9 onwards) asTTle writing results show girls still outperforming boys.  The gender gaps are largest in years 9 and 10 and decrease again in years 11 and 12.
  • The average performance of New Zealand 15 year olds in reading is significantly higher than the OECD average.  Girls performed significantly higher than boys in reading literacy in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) at age 15, across all ethnic groupings.  There is also some evidence of a reduction in the gender gap from 2000-2003.  Compared to other countries in the OECD New Zealand has a relatively modest gender gap (see Figure 8).

Figure 8.  Gender difference (boys-girls) in PISA reading scores, 2003 OECD average

Image of Figure 8. Gender difference (boys-girls) in PISA reading scores, 2003 OECD average.
  • To gain an NCEA level 1 qualification, students must gain eight specified literacy credits.  The proportion of year 11 students gaining the literacy requirements has increased from 2004 to 2006, but higher proportions of girls gain these requirements.  However, there is evidence of a reduction in the gender gap over this time.
  • Female candidates3 are historically more likely to attain4 English (school certificate and NCEA level 1) than male candidates (see section 6.4.1).  In 2006, female NCEA candidates were 25 % more likely than male candidates to attain English in year 11; however this had reduced from 30 % more likely in 2004.  English attainment rates decrease from year 11 to year 13, but since 2004 the attainment rates in year 12 and 13 have increased.
  • In 2006, 383 scholarships were gained in English (see section 6.3).  Of these scholarships, 68 % were awarded to females and 32 % to males.  However, this is similar to the proportions or males (35 %) and females (65 %) who studied English in year 13 for 14 credits or more and can attempt to gain a scholarship.

Overall, girls perform better than boys on English measures.  There is evidence of a narrowing of the gender gap in reading with increased years of schooling, but the gender gap widens in writing.  These gender gaps exist across all ethnic groupings, but gender gaps do vary across ethnic groups.  These literacy differences observed across schooling are also evident in qualification attainment where girls are more likely then boys to gain the NCEA literacy requirements and to gain English as a subject at each NCEA level.

5.1.1 Attainment at the Extremes

In New Zealand all schools and social groups have some good readers and writers but certain characteristics give a student a far higher chance of being a poor reader or writer than others.  A number of the studies mentioned in section 5.1 also collect information on the composition of students who make up the high achieving and low achieving groups.

Low Achieving Group
  • The Competent Learners study found that boys are more likely than girls to be in the lowest performing group in reading and writing at age five and eight.  However, there was evidence of a slight reduction in the over-representation of boys in the low achieving group from age five to age eight.
  • PIRLS found that 16 % of New Zealand year 5 students scored below the lowest quarter benchmark (below this students will have difficulty with the most basic reading task, for both literacy and informational purposes).  This group was comprised of 64 % boys and 36 % girls, which equates to 20 % of year 5 boys and 11 % of year 5 girls.  Māori boys (39 %) and Pasifika boys (37 %) were notably over-represented compared with the proportions they represent in the population but the proportion of Māori girls (25 %) is also a concern.
  • The composition of the lower quartile group from asTTle results shows that boys are significantly more likely to be in this group than girls, from year 5 to year 9, for both reading and writing (see Figure 9).  From year 10 onwards even though higher proportions of boys were in the lower performing group the differences were not significant.  Significantly higher proportions of Māori and Pasifika boys are in this group for reading but significantly higher proportions of Māori females are also found in this group.  For writing higher proportions of Māori and Pasifika boys are in the lowest quartile, but also high proportions of Pasifika females are within this group.  The gender differences are larger in writing than in reading.

Figure 9.  The characteristics of students in the lowest asTTle quartile for a) reading and b) writing

Image of Figure 9. The characteristics of students in the lowest asTTle quartile for a) reading and b) writing.

pubID-24896-fig9b
 

  • PISA found that 14 % of New Zealand 15-year olds perform at or below proficiency level 1.  In 2003 this group comprised of 62 % boys and 38 % girls.  Māori boys (32 %) and Pasifika boys (38 %) were most likely to be in this group and NZ European boys (11 %) and NZ European girls (5 %) were least likely to be in this group.
  • Results from NCEA externally assessed English achievement standards show that boys are more likely than girls to not achieve (NA) the standards.  This is true for all ethnic groupings, but higher proportions of Māori and Pasifika students gain NA in these standards.  The overall gender difference decreases from 15 percentage points at NCEA level 1 to eight percentage points at NCEA level 3, this may reflect the fact that more candidates will be self-selecting English standards in the later years (once they have completed their literacy requirements) and are doing them because they are interested in them.
High Achieving Group
  • The Competent Learners study found that boys are less likely than girls to be in the highest performing group in reading and writing at age five and eight.  However, this gender gap is much smaller than that observed between boys and girls in the lowest achieving group.
  • PIRLS found that 35 % of New Zealand year 5 students scored above the upper quartile benchmark and this group comprised of 44 % boys and 56 % girls.  Māori and Pasifika boys are least likely to be in this group, but the proportions of Māori and Pasifika girls is a concern and lower than the proportion of boys from the other ethnic groupings.
  • The composition of the upper quartile group from asTTle results shows that boys are less likely to be in this group than girls for both reading and writing.  However, from year 10 onwards these differences are not significant.  Gender differences are higher for writing than for reading.  In reading, lower proportions of Māori and Pasifika boys are in this group but from year 6 to year 9 significantly lower proportions of Māori females are also found in this group.  For writing Māori and Pasifika boys are least likely to be in the upper quartile, but none of the differences between sub-groups were found to be significant.
  • PISA also found that 40 % of 15-year olds perform at or above proficiency level 4.  This group is comprised of 44 % boys and 56 % girls.  This gender difference is much smaller than that observed in the low achieving group.  Pakeha girls (57 %) are significantly more likely to be in the high achieving group, whereas Pasifika boys (15 %) and Māori boys (18 %) are least likely.  Low proportions of Pasifika girls (20 %) are also found in this group.
  • Results from NCEA externally assessed achievement standards show that boys are less likely than girls to gain excellence grades in English standards.  This is evident across all ethnic groupings.

5.1.2 Attitudes to English

A number of the studies mentioned in section 5.1 also collect information on student’s attitudes and self-concept in reading and writing.  In general, girls report a greater interest in reading than boys.  Examples of the relationship between student’s attitudes and self-concept (from PIRLS) in reading to the mean reading achievement are shown in Figures 10 and 11 respectively.  Girls are more likely than boys to have positive attitudes towards reading and conversely, boys are more likely to hold negative attitudes towards reading.  The mean achievement of girls and boys with more positive attitudes towards reading was higher than the girls and boys with less positive attitudes in all studies.

Figure 10.  Proportion and mean reading achievement for year 5 students at each attitude level for reading by gender from PIRLS 2001

Image of Figure 10. Proportion and mean reading achievement for year 5 students at each attitude level for reading by gender from PIRLS 2001.

Figure 11.  Proportion and mean reading achievement for year 5 students at each level of self-concept in reading by gender from PIRLS 2001

Image of Figure 11. Proportion and mean reading achievement for year 5 students at each level of self-concept in reading by gender from PIRLS 2001.

 

Studies also show that higher proportions of girls are at the high level of reading self-concept.  Boys and girls at the high level of reading self-concept, achieve, on average, higher mean reading scores than those at lower levels of reading self-concept.  However, at each reading self-concept level the mean achievement of girls is higher than that of boys (see Figure 11).

As students progress through school there is evidence that their liking for reading decreases, with more students having negative attitudes toward reading and less students having highly positive attitudes toward reading.  This is observed for girls and boys.  However, students liking for writing increases during primary schooling and then remains reasonably constant during secondary schooling.

5.2. Mathematics

Analysis of mathematics results shows that gender differences in mathematics are narrower than English.  Some studies show that the gender differences are in favour of males and some show they are in favour of females.

  • The Competent Children, Competent Learners study at age five and six found no differences between girls and boys on early mathematics measures.
  • Mathematics assessment results from NEMP for year 4 student’s shows that there are no significant differences between boys and girls in mathematics, but boys slightly outperform girls.  However, there is evidence that this slight advantage to boys has decreased between 2001 and 2005.
  • Gender differences were still not evident in mathematics at age eight from the Competent Learners study.
  • Results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for year 5 students showed no significant differences between girls and boys.  In 1994 there was a slight advantage to girls; however, this advantage had disappeared by 2002.  Compared to other ethnic groupings, Māori boys perform significantly lower than Māori girls.  Across the different mathematics areas assessed in TIMMS New Zealand students had a relative strength in Geometry and Data and a weakness in Number.  The only significant gender differences were observed in Geometry where girls achieved higher than boys and Measurement and Data where boys performed significantly better than girls.
  • Mathematics results from asTTle show no gender differences from year 5 to year 8.
  • NEMP results for year 8 students show a very small advantage to girls.
  • Results from TIMSS for year 9 students showed no significant differences between girls and boys.  Only Asian students have shown significant gains in mean scores between 1994 and 2002, with Asian students outperforming students from all other ethnic groups.  New Zealand year 9 students achieved significantly above the international mean in all mathematics content areas, but relative to their overall mathematics performance year 9 students were weakest in Number, while Data was an area of relative strength.  There were no significant gender differences detected across the different content areas.
  • Data collected from the Competent Learners study shows that a small gender difference in favour of girls was evident at age 14, however, by age 16 this advantage was in favour of boys.
  • asTTle mathematics results shows that a gender difference in favour of girls becomes evident from year 8 onwards.  This gender difference in favour of girls is much smaller than that observed in English measures.  Gender gaps are evident across all ethnic groupings, but due to the small sample sizes it is not possible to calculate whether any of these differences are significant.  In general, the differences between Māori girls and boys are largest across all ethnic groupings.
  • The average performance of New Zealand 15-year olds in mathematics is significantly higher than the OECD average.  The 2003 PISA results found a small but statistically significant advantage to boys in mathematics at age 15.  This slight advantage to boys was evident across all ethnic groupings and mathematical content areas.  The gender gap in mathematics is smaller than that observed in reading but compared to other countries in the OECD New Zealand has a slightly larger gender gap (see Figure 12).  The variance in the distribution of scores was larger for New Zealand boys than girls, but the scores achieved at both the lower and upper percentiles of the distribution were higher than that for girls.

Figure 12.  Gender difference (boys-girls) in PISA mathematics scores, 2003

Image of Figure 12. Gender difference (boys-girls) in PISA mathematics scores, 2003.

 

  • To gain an NCEA level 1 qualification, students must gain eight specified numeracy credits.  The proportion of year 11 students gaining the numeracy requirements has increased from 2004 to 2006, but higher proportions of girls (two percentage points) gain these requirements.
  • Male School Certificate candidates were slightly more likely (between 1-5 % from 1993 to 2001) to attain mathematics than female candidates (see section 6.4.2).  Since the introduction of NCEA this has reversed and female candidates are slightly more likely (approximately 3 %) than males to attain mathematics in year 11.  Females are also more likely to attain NCEA mathematics in year 12 and 13.  Between 2004 and 2006 the attainment rates have increased in years 11 to 13 for both males and females.  However, as the NCEA year level increases the percentage point gender gap in favour of females increases.
  • In 2006, 671 scholarships were gained in mathematics (see section 6.3).  Of these scholarships, 72 % were awarded to males and 28 % to females.  Compared to the proportion of males in year 13 who have studied mathematics for 14 credits or more (48 %), males are more likely to gain mathematics scholarships than females.

Gender differences in mathematics are narrower than those observed in English measures.  Unlike literacy, gender differences in mathematics vary through schooling.  No significant mathematics gender differences are observed in primary schooling, but during the early years of secondary schooling, even though differences are small, girls slightly outperform boys.  This slight advantage is reversed to boys during the last years of compulsory schooling.  Gender differences are also evident in qualification attainment.  Girls are more likely then boys to gain the NCEA numeracy requirements for NCEA level 1 and attain 14 credits or more in mathematics in year 11.  This gender difference increases with increasing NCEA year level but year 13 males are more likely to gain a mathematics scholarship than their female counterparts.

5.2.1 Attainment at the Extremes

Even though New Zealand students perform well in mathematics internationally, New Zealand also has considerable variation in student performance.  This suggests that educational programmes, schools and teachers may not be appropriately addressing the wide range of student knowledge and skills that exist within the education system.  A number of the studies mentioned in section 5.2 also collect information on the composition of students who make up the high achieving and low achieving groups.  These may give some indication of the student characteristics within these two groups.

Low Achieving Group
  • The Competent Learners study found that boys are more likely than girls to be in the lowest performing group in mathematics at age five and eight.  However, there was evidence of a reduction in the over-representation of boys in the low achieving group from age five to age eight.
  • TIMSS found that 14 % of New Zealand year 5 students scored below the lowest benchmark (below this students will have difficulty with the most basic mathematics tasks).  This has reduced from 22 % of students in 1994.  In 1994, 12 percentage points more boys than girls were performing below the TIMSS low mathematics benchmark.  However, in TIMSS 2002 the proportion of girls and boys performing below the lowest mathematical benchmark is approximately equal.5
  • TIMSS found lower percentages of year 9 students performing below the low mathematics benchmark.  In 2002, 12 % of New Zealand year 9 students performed at this level, and there have been no significant changes between 1994 and 2002.  In all TIMSS cycles higher proportions of boys were in the lowest performing group and this has increased from six percentage points more boys than girls in 1994 to 10 percentage points more boys than girls in 2002.
  • The composition of the lower quartile group from asTTle results shows that slightly more boys than girls are in this group across all years, but these differences are not significant.  However, Māori and Pasifika students are statistically more likely to be in this group than their NZ European and Asian/Other counterparts.  Within ethnic groupings there are some differences by gender.  Across all years similar proportions of NZ European and Asian/Other boys and girls are in this group but Māori and Pasifika boys are more likely to be in this group than Māori and Pasifika girls.  Across all years of schooling Pasifika boys are most likely to be in the lowest asTTle mathematics quartile.
  • PISA found that 15 % of New Zealand 15-year olds perform at or below proficiency level 1.  The proportion of boys and girls in this group was similar, with a slightly higher proportion of girls (52 % compared to 48 %) and within each ethnic grouping there was little variation between the proportion of girls and boys.  Although the gender differences within ethnic groupings were similar, Māori and Pasifika boys and girls are over-represented in this lowest performing group.
  • Results from NCEA externally assessed mathematics achievement standards show that boys are slightly more likely than girls to not achieve the standards.  This is evident across all ethnic groupings, but higher proportions of Māori and Pasifika students gain NA in these standards. 
High Achieving Group
  • The Competent Learners study found that slightly higher proportions of boys (52 % of boys and 48 % of girls) performed in the highest mathematics quartile at age five, and by age eight, the over-representation of boys had grown (59 % of boys and 41 % of girls).
  • TIMSS found that 26 % of New Zealand year 5 students scored at or above the high mathematics benchmark, this is significantly lower than the international mean of 33 %.  The gender difference in this group is very small, however, Māori and Pasifika students are under-represented but this is true of girls and boys.
  • TIMSS found that 24 % of New Zealand year 9 students scored at or above the high mathematics benchmark, this is similar to the international mean.  The gender difference in the group is small but girls were slightly less likely to be represented in this high achieving group.  This pattern is evident across all ethnic groupings.  However, Māori and Pasifika students remain under-represented in this group and compared to year 5 their under-representation has grown.
  • The composition of the upper quartile group from asTTle results shows that boys are slightly more likely to be in this group up to year 7, but from year 8 onwards girls are more likely to be in this group.  These gender differences are also observed within each ethnic grouping, but Māori and Pasifika students are statistically less likely to be in this group than their NZ European and Asian/Other counterparts.  Across all years the proportion of boys in the upper mathematics quartile remains relatively constant at around 28 %, however, in general the proportion of girls in this quartile increases with increasing school year.
  • PISA also found that 21 % of 15-year olds perform at or above proficiency level 5, compared to an international mean of 15 %.  This New Zealand group is comprised of 58 % boys and 42 % girls.  This gender difference in favour of boys is also evident within each ethnic grouping.  Pasifika girls are least likely to be in this group, but Pasifika boys, Māori boys and Māori girls are also under-represented in this group.
  • Results from NCEA externally assessed achievement standards show that boys are just as likely as girls to receive excellence grades in mathematics standards at all NCEA levels.  This is evident across all ethnic groupings, but Māori and Pasifika students are less likely to receive excellence grades than their NZ European and Asian counterparts.

5.2.2 Attitudes to Mathematics

A number of the studies mentioned in section 5.2 also collect information on student’s attitudes and self-concept in mathematics.  In general, across all studies, slightly higher proportions of boys than girls liked and were confident in mathematics.  This was evident across all years of schooling.  However, students liking and confidence in mathematics tended to decrease with increasing school year, for both boys and girls. 

Once again there was evidence that boys and girls with positive attitudes towards mathematics achieve, on average, higher mean mathematics scores than those with less positive attitudes.  An example for year 9 students in TIMSS is shown in Figure 13. 

Figure 13.  Proportion and mean mathematics achievement for year 9 students at each attitude level for mathematics by gender from TIMSS 1998

Image of Figure 13. Proportion and mean mathematics achievement for year 9 students at each attitude level for mathematics by gender from TIMSS 1998.

5.3. Science

Analysis of science results shows that gender differences in science have traditionally been very small.

  • Science assessment results from NEMP for year 4 student’s shows that there are no significant differences between boys and girls in science, but boys slightly outperform girls. 
  • Results from TIMSS for year 5 students show that year 5 students achieved, on average, significantly above the international mean for science.  Between 1994 and 2002 the New Zealand mean science score has increased significantly, this was observed for girls and boys.  In 2002, there was a small difference in mean scores in favour of girls, across all ethnic groupings, but this was not significant.  However, significant gender differences in favour of girls were evident in Life and Physical sciences, but there was no difference in Earth science.  Māori and Pasifika students perform significantly below their NZ European and Asian peers.  However, between 1994 and 2002, Māori and Pasifika students, especially boys, made the most significant gains in achievement, reducing the gap from approximately 100 to 30 scale score points.
  • NEMP results for year 8 students show no significant gender difference.  However, there is a slight advantage to boys and this is at a similar level to those observed in year 4.
  • Results from TIMSS for year 9 students show that year 9 students achieved, on average, significantly above the international mean for science.  Between 1994 and 2002 there has been no significant change in the overall New Zealand mean science score.  In 1994 boys achieved on average significantly higher than girls, but girls have closed the gap on boys over the last two TIMSS cycles (across all ethnic groupings) and now there are no significant gender differences.  Even though Māori and Pasifika students have made gains in achievement since 1994, they still perform significantly lower than their NZ European and Asian counterparts.
  • The average performance of New Zealand 15-year olds in science is significantly higher than the OECD average.  However, compared to other countries New Zealand has a relatively large distribution of scores, and the distribution for boys is wider than that for girls.  There was no significant difference in the mean science score from PISA 2000 to PISA 2003, however, in 2000 the overall performance of girls was higher than boys but in 2003 the advantage had moved to boys.  This shift in advantage to boys was due to a decrease in the performance of girls rather than an increase in the performance of boys.  In 2003, the slight advantage to boys was observed across all ethnic groupings, but Māori and Pasifika students scored significantly lower than their NZ European and Asian peers.
  • Female candidates are slightly more likely to attain science (school certificate and NCEA level 1) than male candidates (see section 6.4.3).  Around 60 % of year 11 candidates attain science this is the lowest rate across the three main subject areas (English, mathematics and science).  Science attainment rates stay at approximately 60 % for male candidates in years 12 and 13 but they increase by around four percentage points for female candidates.  This results in an increased gender gap in favour of females in NCEA years 12 and 13.  By individual science subject (biology, chemistry and physics) it is found that in years 12 and 13 physics has the highest attainment rate followed by biology then chemistry.  This is true for both males and females; with females having slightly higher attainment rates in physics and biology but there is no difference for chemistry.
  • In 2006, 623 scholarships were gained in science (see section 6.3).  Of these scholarships, 64 % were awarded to males and 36 % to females.  The number awarded to males is higher than the proportion of males in year 13 who have studied science for 14 credits or more (47 %).  The gender gap is found to vary across the three areas of science.  In biology males made up 40 % of scholarships compared to 33 % of the year 13 cohort who have studied for 14 credits or more.  In chemistry 70 % of males gained a scholarship but they made up only 46 % of the year 13 cohort who had studied chemistry for 14 credits or more.  Also, the majority (89 %) of physics scholarship were gained by males but this is much larger than their representation in the year 13 cohort who had studied physics for 14 credits or more (63 %).

Overall, gender differences in science are negligible.  Even though gender differences are small there are large variations in the performance of students in science with Māori and Pasifika students performing, on average, significantly lower than their NZ European and Asian counterparts.  In general, boys slightly outperform girls across all years of schooling but girls are more likely to attain 14 credits or more in science in year 11.  This gender difference increases with increasing NCEA year level but year 13 males are more likely to gain a science scholarship than their female counterparts.

5.3.1 Attainment at the Extremes

New Zealand is found to have a relatively large distribution of science scores and information collected from TIMSS shows the composition of students who make up the high achieving and low achieving groups.

Low Achieving Group
  • TIMSS found that 8 % of New Zealand year 5 students scored below the lowest benchmark (below this students will have difficulty with the most basic science tasks).  This has reduced from 15 % of students in 1994.  In 1994, this group was made up of 61 % boys and 39 % girls, a 22 percentage point gender difference.  In TIMSS 2002 this gap had reduced to 8 percentage points (54 % boys and 46 % girls).
  • TIMSS found lower percentages of year 9 students performing below the low science benchmark.  In 2002, 6 % of New Zealand year 9 students performed at this level, this has reduced from 11 % in 1994.  Girls are slightly over-represented in this group.  In 2002, this group was made up of 44 % boys and 56 % girls a 10 percentage point gender difference.  This is similar to the difference in 1994.
  • Results from NCEA externally assessed achievement standards show that boys are more likely than girls to not achieve science standards at NCEA level 1 and 2, but this is reversed at level 3.  Across all ethnic groupings, Māori and Pasifika students are more likely to not achieve science standards than their NZ European and Asian counterparts.
High Achieving Group
  • TIMSS found that 38 % of New Zealand year 5 students scored at or above the high science benchmark, this is significantly higher than the international mean of 30 %.  In 2002, similar proportions of boys and girls were in this group (48 % boys and 52 % girls).  Māori boys (30 %) and Pasifika boys (27 %) and girls (25 %) had a smaller proportion of students in this benchmark than would be expected.
  • TIMSS found that 35 % of New Zealand year 9 students scored at or above the high science benchmark, this is significantly high than the international mean of 25 %.  In 2002, slightly higher proportions of boys than girls reached the high benchmark (52 % boys and 48 % girls).  Māori girls and boys (15 % and 22 % respectively) and Pasifika girls and boys (8 % each) had a smaller proportion of students in this benchmark than would be expected.  The under-representation of these groups had increased from the year 5 level.
  • Results from NCEA externally assessed achievement standards show that boys are slightly less likely than girls to receive excellence grades in science standards at all NCEA levels.  This is evident across all ethnic groupings, but Māori and Pasifika students are less likely to receive excellence grades than their NZ European and Asian counterparts.

5.3.2 Attitudes to Science

A number of the studies mentioned in section 5.3 also collect information on student’s attitudes and self-concept in science.  In general, across all studies, slightly higher proportions of boys than girls liked and were confident in science.  This was evident across all years of schooling.  However, students liking and confidence in science tended to decrease with increasing school year, for both boys and girls. 

Once again there was evidence that boys and girls with positive attitudes towards science achieve, on average, higher mean science scores than those with less positive attitudes.  An example for year 9 students in TIMSS is shown in Figure 14. 

Figure 14.  Proportion and mean science achievement for year 9 students at each attitude level for science by gender from TIMSS 1998

Image of Figure 14. Proportion and mean science achievement for year 9 students at each attitude level for science by gender from TIMSS 1998.

Footnotes 

  1. Candidates who achieve a subject are defined as gaining at least 14 credits in that subject within the year, at a typical level or higher.
  2. The Competent Learners reports can be downloaded from the NZCER website: www.NZCER.org.nz
  3. A candidate is a student gaining at least one credit at the relevant year level.
  4. Attainment in a subject is classified as gaining at least 14 credits in that subject at a typical level or higher for NCEA or receiving an A, B or C grade in School Certificate.
  5. Due to the small number of students it is not possible to break down gender information into the different ethnic groupings.