ATLANTA (Reuters) - American elementary school teachers reward girls with higher grades for behaving better in class than boys and for paying attention, according to a new study that may be the first of its kind in comparing grades, standardized tests and behavior.
Gender differences in grades emerge early and favor girls in all subject areas, said the report, which will be published in the Journal of Human Resources later this month.
The study analyzed U.S. classroom data for more than 5,800 kindergarten through fifth grade students on standardized tests, grades given by teachers and so-called "non-cognitive skills" such as a student's eagerness to learn and focus.
The data revealed a gender gap between school grades and standardized tests.
Boys often received lower grades even though they scored higher than girls on standardized tests in the same subject, said Christopher Cornwell, head of economics at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business and one of the study's co-authors.
Girls received higher grades than would have been predicted by their standardized test scores because teachers rated them higher on non-cognitive skills, Cornwell said in an interview.
Cornwell said he believes the report is the first to offer statistical evidence that teachers reward girls with better grades for their good behavior.
"You even see evidence that teachers reward boys, give something like a grade bonus to boys, who have behaviors that are like girls," said Cornwell.
Boys are prone to be risk takers and are more likely to guess on standardized test questions, which could account for higher scores in some subjects, said David Sadker, professor emeritus of education at American University in Washington.
But boys also can be unruly in the classroom, he said.
"It's human nature for teachers to reward those who make their lives easier in the classroom, even if it is subconscious," said Sadker, an expert in gender and education issues who was not involved in the study.
Cornwell said he hoped the study would prompt further research on solutions to grade disparity, including whether single-gender classrooms would be an effective strategy.
There may also be advantages for boys to attend class with girls who behave better, Cornwell said.
"That could be good for boys to be exposed to that," he said. "If you are proposing something like same-sex education, there are tradeoffs involved."
Editing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Alden Bentley