Published: September 20, 2012
Teachers used to ask why Johnny can’t read. Now, they’re asking why Johnny can’t write.
The findings of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, show that boys lag way behind girls in writing skills.
It was administered in early 2011, and it marked the first time the test was administered on computers instead of having the 24,100 eighth-graders and 28,100 12th-graders write with paper and pencil.
On average, eighth-grade females scored 20 points higher than their male counterparts.
Twelfth-grade males scored 14 points lower than females in the same grade on average.
Surveys showed that only 35 percent of the boys agreed with the statement “Writing is one of my favorite activities” compared with 53 percent of the girls.
Other reasons for the disparity are harder to ascertain. One possibility is that 39 percent of the 12th-graders surveyed said they write only one page of homework or less in English class each week.
However, if the girls and the boys are writing the same amount of homework, how does that translate into lower skills among the boys?
Maybe the subject matter of the writing assignments some teachers are giving to their students just bores the boys to tears.
When my nephews were young, I wanted them to read Sports Illustrated for Kids because they loved football.
I figured if they would read something that was well-written, they would become skilled readers, even if that skill didn’t carry over into reading, say, Silas Marner, let alone writing essays or short stories.
On the other hand, the two scenarios given to the tested students as subject matter were life on an island with mountains and birds and the proposed arrival of a big-box store in their neighborhood. Those topics strike me as fairly gender-neutral.
Because the test was on computers, the boys can’t blame their collective performance on old-fogey teachers incapable of adapting to the new technology.
This is dangerous subject matter for a woman writer to tackle for fear of sparking claims of sexism. But perhaps the old bromide about girls maturing faster than boys explains the higher female performance.
After all, women now make up the majority of American college students, and their average retention and graduation rates are higher than those of male college students.
Questions about short attention spans and lack of patience as possible factors come to mind. But is that fair?
The test covered three endeavors: persuading, explaining and conveying experience by relating an account of either a real or an imaginary occurrence.
These are tasks that all boys perform daily. However, they are more likely to perform these tasks by talking or texting instead of writing with concern for proper grammar.
The Harry Potter franchise is credited with getting more youngsters to read, but apparently it hasn’t inspired them to write their own stories.
Maybe we shouldn’t have told the boys that J.K. Rowling is a woman.