Disparities still exist between boys’ and girls’ test scores
Girls are outperforming boys in reading and language arts and boys are scoring higher than girls in science and math.
This classic split in gender achievement is evident in county test scores, Morgan County Schools Assessment and Special Education Director Terry Riley said. It’s also an issue nationwide, said Elementary Education Director Kandy Kulus.
According to a chart that Riley compiled, Morgan County boys scored higher in science than girls by five to ten percentage points on the 2010 and 2011 WESTEST 2 exams.
Girls’ scores were 15 to 18 percentage points higher than boys in reading and language arts.
Boys outdid girls by more than two to five percentage points in math and fared better by almost two to four percentage points in social studies on the WESTEST exams those years.
Morgan County Schools is implementing activities linked to the new Next Generation content standards to improve boys’ success in reading and girls’ interest in science.
Kulus said that they are increasing informational reading with how-to-science books about snakes and how machines work. Typically boys are more engaged in this type of reading, she said. The increase in informational reading is required by the new state standards.
Reading Cinderella would be paired with books about how to build castles or moats, which would engage boys, Kulus said. Informational reading in science would use literary stories to interest girls. Stories have traditionally been more literary in nature.
Varying instruction with whole group and small group instruction and learning centers in older grades are ways of engaging boys in the educational process. It’s common to see word centers and math manipulatives like rulers, measuring tools and cubes, she said.
Technology in classrooms helps with the availability of computers, online games, TechSteps and other digital tools for k-12 students, Kulus said. With project-based learning, kids choose topics projects of interest for science and social studies fairs and build displays or models.
Assistant Superintendent Joan Willard recalled making salt dough maps of countries and bringing culturally-related food to school. Kids learn best by doing, she said.
They encourage boys and girls to learn in different ways—visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic (whole body)—with a wide range of activities, Kulus said. Some learn better by doing, by acting out story characters or by working with their hands.
A pilot program integrating hands-on learning was being instituted at Warm Springs Middle School— “Was Coal Good for West Virginia”—that all eighth grade teachers would do, Superintendent David Banks said.
In science, students would learn where coal comes from. In literature, kids would read the Rocket Boys stories. They were also trying to visit a coal mine and its community.
Special education, ADHD
Riley said that two-thirds of the students that were receiving county special education services, not counting speech services, were boys. Most of the boys identified as special education are having trouble reading. There weren’t as many girls as boys with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).
Willard said a child diagnosed with ADHD can’t absorb information well, it impacts their learning and their impulsivity gets in the way, she said.
Riley said the two major issues with a child with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) are impulsivity and distractedness. He encouraged parents to talk with their child’s teachers. Dietary changes can make a difference. If kids are engaged in learning, they’ll do better, he said.
Willard advised having a structured day and home life not only for kids with ADHD, but for all children.
“Structure in home helps kids operate in a structured manner,” she said.
Kids who were up until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. were less likely to attend school, Riley said.
Having a routine bedtime was important.
Children don’t learn boundaries when mom says no and dad says yes, Willard said. The schools were working together in partnership with the home to transition kids from school to home.
“It has to be a community effort,” she said.
“It takes a village, it truly does. It’s a partnership with families,” Kulus said.
With the achievement gender gap, there may be cultural expectations involved, Riley said. We need to expect all kids to be good in all subjects and set expectations for children to succeed. Willard said it was important to teach the whole child.
Reading is important
Banks said it was exciting seeing boys reading the Harry Potter books and Hunger Games. Riley had a hard time finding good reading books for special education students that are high-interest, but not too elementary.
Boys had to find joy in reading, Banks said. That won’t happen if they don’t think they’ll be able to understand it. Schools need to do a better job of showing boys why it’s important to read, that it’s important for every job.
When kids aren’t able to read in third grade, it gets worse, Banks said. They may start missing school and getting into bad things and it could lead to them dropping out.
His goal was that teachers, bus drivers and other school employees would establish a mentoring relationship with kids so “they see that someone cares about them.”