March 17, 2010 -- Girls are reading better than boys, according to a new study by the Center on Education Policy, and the pattern is giving girls a life-long advantage, experts tell ABC News.
Boys are lagging behind girls on standardized reading tests in all 50 states, the research suggests. In some states, the boys are trailing girls by as much as 10 percentage points.
While girls best boys in reading throughout the country, the genders are evenly split when it came to proficiency in math.
In past years, boys had a decided advantage over girls in math.
The study looked at trends beginning in 2002 and ending in 2008.
"The cause for concern is that this is an unmistakable and clear trend, a national trend," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy. "Mainly, we found no state in which boys did not lag behind girls in reading at the elementary level, the middle level and the high school level. So it's pretty clear: Boys are not doing as well as girls in reading."
In Virginia and New Hampshire, middle school girls did better than boys in reading proficiency by 15 percentage points. In New York, girls were 13 percentage points ahead.
"In the past, boys did not do better in the first couple years of school," Jennings said. "Girls did better. But then boys caught up. The difference now is we're finding that boys are not catching up."
At the Ronald McNair High School in New Jersey, English teacher Don Dello said he sees the difference.
"I think in an English classroom, there's always been a tendency for the girls to be more interested in literature than the boys," Dello said.
So why the gap?
For reading, one theory points to differences between the brains of boys and girls. While girls' brains are more verbally oriented, often making reading skills easier for them, boys' brains are visually oriented.
Another theory is that boys are more physically restless than girls. Even recess time has been cut in some schools in the push for better achievement test scores.
"[Boys] can read, but they need to be moving around or they need to be doodling, they need to be doing something that's activating their brains," said Dr. Michael Gurian, a family therapist.
The problem extends beyond high school.
"There's a consistent pattern here that says boys are not learning how to read as well as girls," Jennings said. "They're dropping out of school at greater rates than girls. They're going to college at lower rates than girls, and they're getting their college degrees at lower rates than girls."
The study, Jennings said, is very good for girls. It shows that they've done better in the last 20 years than they were doing before. Unfortunately, for boys, the opposite is true.
How have the girls managed to catch up?
Some experts credit the women's movement with girls' progress in math and reading. Girls study harder because there are career opportunities and expectations that did not exist for them 30 or 40 years ago when the education gaps looked much different than they do today.