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Published: Sunday, 11/13/2005

Boys lagging in same-gender schools

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Linda Ruiz-Bringman talks to her third-grade students during lunch at Lincoln Academy for Boys, where standardized test scores have not improved the way officials had hoped. Linda Ruiz-Bringman talks to her third-grade students during lunch at Lincoln Academy for Boys, where standardized test scores have not improved the way officials had hoped.
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Girls are better than boys.

At least that's the result so far at Toledo Public's two single-gender public elementary schools, which now are in their third year.

Stewart Academy for Girls and Lincoln Academy for Boys are performing better than before transforming into single gender schools, but the all-female building has shown significant improvement while scores at the boys' building are actually worse in some areas.

"Our scores are phenomenal, and we have had high gains in proficiency tests," said Suzanne Muggy, assistant principal at Stewart.

Unfortunately, school leaders cannot say the same for Stewart's all-male counterpart.

Lincoln Academy for Boys "has not increased at a rate I would like," Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders acknowledged.

In fact, the sixth-grade test scores last year at Lincoln Academy for Boys were worse in each subject when compared to the previous year's scores.

During the 2004-2005 school year, just 12.9 percent of the boys were rated "proficient" or better in reading; 53.6 percent were proficient or better in writing, and only 6.5 percent were proficient or better in math.

The previous year, 16.2 percent of the boys were proficient or better in reading; 57.9 percent were proficient or better in writing, and 18.4 percent were proficient or better in math.

Stewart, which is temporarily at the former Warren Elementary on Woodruff Avenue while its building on Avondale Avenue is razed and rebuilt, has made the greatest gains in sixth-grade state tests.

During the 2004-2005 school year, 89.4 percent of the girls achieved a "proficient" rating or better in reading; 80.4 percent were proficient or better in writing, and 59.6 percent were proficient or better in math.

Those scores were a marked improvement over even the previous year, when only 17.2 percent were proficient or better in reading; 75.9 percent were proficient or better in writing, and 34.5 percent were proficient or better in math.

So why are the girls advancing so much quicker than the boys?

Three different principals in three years and a staff of mostly new teachers after restructuring the district because of layoffs have rocked Lincoln's stability, Mr. Sanders said.

"We think once we stabilize the administration and once we are able to more selectively identify teachers for the academies, that will be a strong element [toward success]," he said.

Stewart teachers say one of the reasons the girls are performing better is because they now have a feeling of pride for their school that was not there before.

When asked if she missed being in school with boys, 10-year-old NaKayla James quickly shook her head sideways and said no.

"It's better now because we can learn," she said. "The boys were always being bad and off-track."

Rhea Dawson, an 8-year-old at Stewart, said boys are mostly a distraction for her.

"At my old school, Reynolds Elementary, the boys got the girls in trouble," Rhea said.

Third-grade teacher Kelly Szurko has been at Stewart for seven years and said her job is now incredibly easier.

"The biggest thing I've noticed is that it's calmer and quiet," Ms. Szurko said. "I have no discipline problems, our test scores in sixth grade have skyrocketed, and all the teachers are working really well."

Jamie Johnson, the new principal at Lincoln Academy for Boys, said the school's teachers still have a real challenge.

"It's not a big, giant gymnasium like people think," she said of the perception some may have of an all-male student body. "It has been three years, and in that time the staff has done a lot of research on how boys learn differently, so we don't have to experiment anymore."

She's noticed the boys at Lincoln are better behaved than at co-ed schools, where she said males try to show off for the females. Also, boys in a single-gender environment are more likely to pursue interests in art, music, drama, and foreign languages than those in co-ed schools, she said.

However, the test scores for Stewart's boys are not acceptable, Ms. Johnson said.

Toledo Public's single-gender schools are voluntary for students and structured as magnet schools. The district received national attention in 2003 when Mr. Sanders announced it would join a very short list of communities with single-gender public elementary schools. It still has the only all-girls public elementary school building in Ohio.

A provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act allows school districts to establish single-gender schools and classrooms, a trend that is spreading nationally.

Last month, the Miami-Dade School Board approved the first all-female public school in South Florida for students in grades 6 through 12.

Closer to Toledo, Columbus is considering two single-gender middle schools to help compete with charter schools, which are publicly funded, privately run schools free from many state regulations.

Toledo Public opened its single-gender schools, in part, to compete with charter schools, which have lured thousand of students away from their school system.

Some research suggests that students perform better - both academically and behaviorally - in a single-gender classroom, but skeptics say that research usually is based on private schools.

Overall, Lincoln is ranked in "academic emergency" by the state - the lowest category and the equivalent of an F. It also missed a tough federal standard requiring it show "adequate yearly progress" among different subgroups of students.

Stewart is ranked as a "continuous improvement" school, which is the equivalent of a C on the state's five-tier ranking system, and met the adequate yearly progress goal.

"We are very pleased where Stewart is," Superintendent Sanders said.

"There is an automatic embracing of the single-gender education there and we want to mirror that at Lincoln."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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