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USD Professor Finds Developmental and Sex-Based Differences Influence Writing Achievement

Photo of Daniel Hajovsky Daniel Hajovsky has published findings on developmental and sex-based differences in cognitive ability influences on writing in school-age children.

VERMILLION, S.D. – A University of South Dakota professor has published research on developmental and sex-based differences in cognitive ability influences on standardized measures of writing achievement.

Daniel Hajovsky, an assistant professor and program director of the USD’s School Psychology Program, said he and his colleagues have published findings on developmental and sex-based differences in cognitive ability influences on writing in school-age children in the flagship journal of the Society for the Study of School Psychology, “Journal of School Psychology.”

The results of the research show that cognitive ability influences on writing differ between males and females in grades 1-4 and across different grade levels (grades 1-12). While the results may point to an early sex difference in writing development, Hajovsky stressed the findings need to be replicated with different measures and samples before strong conclusions are reached. He and his colleagues are currently conducting a replication study with different measures and a very large, nationally representative sample.

Hajovsky, who is also a research fellow at the School of Education Research Center, said that while the results are compelling, the findings may be a result of, rather than an explanation for, differences in early writing.

“Several explanations may account for this early sex difference in writing,” he said. “For example, writing may be seen as a female-oriented task and therefore more encouraged for females relative to males. If so, this may also explain why females tend to spend more time, on average, engaging in writing compared to that of males.”

Hajovsky said it is also plausible that observed sex differences on phenotypic measures of achievement may be due to sex differences in processing speed and language-based variables. For example, he said females tend to produce more total words when writing and therefore may be more efficient at sentence formation.

“Females show moderate advantages in writing that persist across age and also show some advantages on measures of reading,” he said. “One hypothesis is that these advantages in academic skills may reflect a broader female advantage in language-based skills.”

Hajovsky and a colleague from Howard University, Jacqueline Caemmerer, are currently conducting a longitudinal study to examine sex differences in social skills development from kindergarten to sixth grade. Preliminary findings show that females have a moderate advantage in social skills as early as kindergarten with that advantage increasing across school-age development.

“These findings comport with other sex-based findings of female advantages on language-based measures of achievement. For example, spelling, reading, and writing. Findings from these studies may inform teacher instruction including teacher-student interaction by understanding different levels of student need,” he said.


USD's School of Education is transformative in preparing students both inside and outside the classroom. Its research- and practitioner-based programs train future educators, counselors, leaders, fitness and sport-related professionals for successful careers. The school focuses on a comprehensive learning experience, lifelong learning and developing professionals grounded in best practice. The school’s divisions include counseling and psychology, curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, kinesiology and sport management, and teacher residency and education.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News