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By Grace Carr
Out of every four black boys in California classrooms, three failed to meet reading and writing standards on the most recent round of testing, according to data from the state Department of Education (DOE).
The state DOE administered the tests in the fall of 2016, but released the data at the end of May, after it was analyzed by CALmatters, a non-profit journalism venture dedicated to exploring state policies and politics. Over 50 percent of these boys scored in the lowest category on the test’s English section, trailing far behind their female classmates. The disparity reflects a widening gender gap in literacy scores across ethnic groups.
California published separate figures on the performance of various ethnic and economic groups, but did not offer a more detailed breakdown of how boys and girls perform within those groups, with state officials claiming that sorting the data is costly and time consuming. This recent data provides rare insight into how gender interacts with race and class in mastering basic literacy skills.
Female students hold a sizable lead over their male classmates in language arts. The gap spans all grade levels, and a higher family income does not appear to have an effect. The gap is also not unique to California, given that girls out-read boys in almost every country and at every age.
“I wouldn’t put this in the same category of severity or concern as other achievement gaps,” Tom Loveless, an education researcher for the Brookings Institution, said Thursday. “But there needs to be greater awareness of this.”
As early as fourth grade, roughly 80 percent of black boys failed to meet state reading standards. Of all ethnic groups for which data exists, black boys trailed black girls by the widest margin.
“Part of this may be structural, in having texts that aren’t relevant to the experiences and legacy of African-American boys,” said Chris Chatmon, executive director of the African-American Male Achievement program at the Oakland Unified School District. “When a lot of the curriculum you have access to isn’t familiar, or doesn’t acknowledge your past or your present, you have a tendency not to be engaged with it or want to read it.”
One longstanding explanation holds that there is some biological difference in development between boys and girls. A second circle of thought maintains that cultural norms involving masculinity and cultural cues depict reading and writing as a feminine activity.
Others point to a combination of insufficient recess time to allow boys to blow off steam, reading materials unrelated to male interests and a largely female teaching workforce.
Given that the gap persists in foreign education systems that are radically different from ours, researches have found no conclusive answer.