Possible Causes of the Gender Achievement Gap

Teacher interactions
How a student interacts with and is evaluated by his or her teachers is closely correlated with that student's future academic achievement. According to researcher Thomas Good, there are two competing views of how teachers can indirectly impact the achievement of their students. The first is that teachers are more likely to give special attention and extra assistance to students who appear to be struggling in their class. In reading and writing classes, male students are often behind female students in terms of achievement. Therefore, male students are more likely to get more teacher attention, and this extra interaction could give males an advantage in terms of future achievement. The second view is that teachers demand more and show more respect toward students who they view to be high achievers, which creates a cycle in which only students who are perceived to be intelligent receive extra help and teacher attention.

Teacher evaluations
How teachers perceive students' knowledge and abilities varies by gender and influences classroom processes and student achievement in both reading and math. Teachers usually have higher expectations for students they view as higher achievers and treat these students with more respect. A study by Tach and Farkas has also found that when students are split into reading groups based on their abilities, the students in the higher-ability reading groups are more likely to demonstrate positive learning behaviors and higher achievement.

Teachers are more likely to favor girls when evaluating what types of readers students seem to be. Because studies have shown that teacher perceptions of students can determine how much individualized attention a student receives and can serve as an indicator of future academic progress, if teachers underestimate males' reading abilities and use ability grouping in their classrooms, male students might be put at a disadvantage and have their learning in reading classes be negatively affected. The opposite trend has been found in math classes. Teachers still tend to view math as a "masculine" subject and tend to have higher expectations for and better attitude towards their male students in these classes.

A study by Fennema et al. has also shown that teachers tend to name males when asked to list their "best math students." Females are more likely than males to be negatively impacted than male students by this underestimation of their math abilities. These gender-specific evaluations from teachers are implicit; usually the teachers have no idea that they are favoring one gender over the other until they are shown concrete evidence, such as a video recording of their classroom. However, even though the discrimination is implicit, it still has negative effects on both male and female students.

There is conflicting evidence about whether teacher assessments of student performance and ability are consistent with cognitive assessments like standardized tests. Teacher assessment evidence comes from a relatively small number of classrooms when compared to standardized tests, which are administered in every public school in all fifty states.

There is speculation that gender stereotyping within classrooms can also lead to differences in academic achievement and representation for female and male students. Math and science are often perceived as "masculine" subjects because they lead to success in "masculine" fields, such as medicine and engineering. English and history, on the other hand, are often perceived as "feminine" subjects because they are more closely aligned with "feminine" jobs, such as teaching or care work. These stereotypes can influence student achievement in these areas.

Research on stereotype threat has shown that gender stereotypes decrease the mathematical self-esteem of many female students, and that this lack of academic confidence leads to anxiety and poorer performance on math exams.

Parent socialization
How a child's parents view his or her skills can also contribute to the gender achievement gap in education. A study by Jacobs and Eccles has shown that adults rate female children as having better social skills than male children, and that girls are more likely to be seen as "good children" than boys. These gender-based stereotypes can perpetuate the gender achievement gap in education by influencing parents' perceptions of their children's skills, and these perceptions can influence the types of activities and subjects parents steer their children toward.