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Persistent and Contradictory Comparative Claims of Boys' and Girls' Reading Achievement: A Historical Interpretive Approach Open Access


Other title
Historical interpretation of gender differences and reading achievement
Gender differences and reading achievement,
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Loerke, Karen G
Supervisor and department
Linda Phillips (Elementary Education)
Examining committee member and department
Denyse Hayward (Educational Psychology)
Andre Grace (Educational Policy Studies)
Jean Clandinin (Elementary Education)
Laura Sokal (Education)
Larry Prochner (Elementary Education)
Department of Elementary Education

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
ABSTRACT Persistent and contradictory claims that boys are not doing as well as girls in reading achievement have been made since the time of compulsory education in North America (1890). Since approximately half of the school population is comprised of boys, it was critical to understand the extent of, and possible causes for such a gender gap. A plethora of inconsistent research findings across a range of methodologies and perspectives over such an extensive time period (1890 to the present) made it essential to implement a systematic evidence-based historical interpretive (SEHI) methodology to investigate the relative claim of a boy-girl gap in reading achievement over 12 decades. Database searches generated over 3,000 hits and yielded 78 trustworthy studies from four time-periods (1890–1920; 1921–1945; 1946–1980; 1981–2011). A comprehensive examination and interpretation of the evidence-based studies revealed that boys’ and girls’ reading achievement differ by approximately only 1%. Evidence has indicated confusion around the reporting of statistical information and the use of new scaling systems that have inflated differences in the scores between girls and boys. Findings reveal the critical need to study primary sources when citing prior results. The only select groups of boys underachieving in reading comprehension borne out by the research evidence are those from low SES backgrounds and boys of colour. Reasons that boys underachieve in reading and possible solutions are multi-dimensional that go beyond proposed simplistic solutions such as buy more boy-friendly books, hire more male teachers, or provide boys’ only classes. To focus on boys as a group presupposes that all boys are underachieving in reading and that all girls are doing well, thereby overstating the problem for boys while ignoring girls. Evidence from low-gender gap schools reveals that when teachers have high expectations for their students with additional support for struggling learners, all students achieve. Publicity claims around boys’ poor performance in reading comprehension are not only false but have serious implications for both boys and girls. It is time to debunk the myth: boys’ are not underachieving in reading and have not done so over the past century.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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