Homework hones testing skills but not grades


February 11, 2009 � Gender bias appears to color the ratings students give their male and female high school science teachers, according to a study conducted by University of Virginia education professor Robert Tai and colleagues from Harvard and Clemson universities.

The study, published online this year in the journal Science Education, examined college science students’ evaluations of their high school biology, chemistry and physics teachers. These evaluations were categorized by gender of the teacher and gender of the student.

Male students rated female teachers significantly lower than male teachers in all three scientific disciplines. However, female students rated only female physics teachers lower than their male counterparts. The study analyzed surveys of 6,994 students at more than 50 colleges and universities across the United States.

“The data collected for this study came from the entire span of four-year colleges and universities, including small liberal arts colleges and large research universities,” said Tai, an associate professor in U.Va.‘s Curry School of Education.

The researchers found these biases even when accounting for elements such as students’ family support for learning science, academic performance and classroom experiences.

Both male and female teachers in each of the three areas appeared to be equally effective at preparing their students for college-level science courses, based upon the students’ college science grades. Thus, it appears that this bias in students’ perspectives on their high school science teachers is specifically linked to gender, Tai said.

“This type of negative bias in evaluation leaves a pervasive negative perception of females as ‘science people,’ which is a real problem for a science- and technology-dependent society such as ours,” Tai said.

The potential for this bias to negatively impact female students is great given that career choice often relies on students’ positive impressions of people in a p

Jane Haley | Office of Development & Public Affairs

The hours you dedicated to math and science homework in high school did not help boost your GPA, according to a study published recently by Education School Assoc. Prof. Robert Tai and two associates from the University of Macau and Indiana University.

The scholars tabulated transcript and survey data of about 18,000 10th grade students from 1990 and 2002 and found that time spent on homework led to better performance on standardized tests, but not necessarily to better grades.

The findings run contrary to research suggesting the opposite — that final class grade depends on degree of homework completion.

“Our results hint that maybe homework is not being used as well as it could be,” lead researcher Adam Maltese, of Indiana University, said in a University statement released Tuesday.

The analysis found students did perform better on standardized tests if they completed more homework, but that assignments could not replace good teaching.

“I believe that this finding is the end result of a chain of unfortunate educational decisions, beginning with the content coverage requirements that push too much information into too little time to learn it in the classroom,” Tai said. “The overflow typically results in more homework assignments.”

Tenth grade high school students typically spend the equivalent of about 150 50-minute class periods performing science, technology, engineering and math homework each year, according to the University statement. The study’s findings suggest that reforming the structure and desired goals of homework, rather continuing the large workload, could improve its efficiency.

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