Reading Skill among Malaysian ESL Lower Secondary Students: Which Girls and Which Boys are Achieving and Underachieving?
Keywords:English reading skill, Rasch Model, demographic factors, underachievement
The literature on educational achievement has shown consistently that boys are underachieving. They are disengaged with learning, and their dropout rates in schools are higher than those for girls. Although the problem of underachievement and disengagement with learning is largely associated with boys, not all boys are underachieving or disengaged with learning, and not all girls are achieving and engaged with learning. There is also strong evidence to suggest that differences within gender are more significant than the difference between gender. Recent research findings have shown that educational performance is highly influenced by socio-demographic factors such as school location, race or ethnicity, socio-economic status, and parents’ education. Given that reading is a critical literacy skill for academic achievement and English is an important second language in Malaysia, this study sought to identify groups of Malaysian lower secondary students who are at risk of underachieving in English reading skill. A sample of 944 Malaysian ESL Form 1, 2 and 3 students, randomly selected from national-type schools, participated in the study. A test of English reading skill, consisting of 60 multiple-choice items was used. The Rasch Model analysis as well as selected descriptive statistics were used to answer the research questions. The results showed that students’ performance in English reading differed from one group to another, implying that gender did not exclusively influence student performance. Based on the findings, more sound and informed decisions on students’ performance in English reading skill and the most effective teaching methods can be made. Qualitative investigation of the factors behind high or low performance among these groups of students is also needed to further understand the influence of these factors on achievement and underachievement .
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