Investigating the impact of single-sex schooling on student achievement

Analysis of Year 3, 5 and 7 test data across almost 3000 Australian schools show ‘single-sex schools on average provide no better value-add over time than coeducational schools'.

Researchers from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) examined numeracy and reading achievement data from NAPLAN 2010-12. Writing in Research Developments (rd), Dr Katherine Dix says there is an ongoing debate about the benefits of single-sex schools in terms of student achievement.

Dix, a Senior Research Fellow in ACER's Australian Surveys research program, says this data analysis suggests that even after controlling for socioeconomic status (SES), students in single-sex schools are significantly more likely to outperform their co-ed counterparts in reading and numeracy achievement over time. ‘Some of these differences, in part, confirm trends in gender differences across subject areas. However, in terms of the compounding influence of being in a single-sex school over time, there appears to be no value-add in numeracy achievement and even a decline in reading achievement over time in single-sex schools compared to coeducational schools.'

The research involved 55 girls schools, 33 boys schools and 2909 coeducational schools – those with complete data for Years 3, 5 and 7. Dix reports that, after controlling for the effects of SES, at all year levels, students in all-boys schools were more likely to outperform students in other school types in numeracy. However, although on average they were one term ahead of students in all-girls schools and one year ahead of co-ed students the gap remained the same between the year groups, suggesting there's no value-add over time.

In reading, it was the students in all-girls schools who were likely to outperform those in other schools (at all year levels), but the gap between single-sex and coeducational schools actually narrowed over time. ‘Importantly, the narrowing gap in reading achievement as students progress by year level suggests that the value-add over time that is experienced in coeducational schools is not being realised in single-sex schools,' Dix writes.

The findings were presented at the International Boys' Schools Coalition regional conference in Adelaide last month.

Read the full article: Single-sex schooling and achievement outcomes published in ACER's Research Developments.