Boys increase test scores

Targeted effort to help boys learn shows in test scores

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$KEVIN VAUGHN, a fifth-grade teacher at Dolores Elementary School, wears a dress to school Wednesday, part of a bargain he made with boys to improve their test scores, and improve their scores, they did.$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$

Dolores Elementary School Principal Sherri Maxwell had a few words to share with the boys at the elementary school last year: “You can do better than this,” she told them.

She challenged the boys to do better on the state TCAP. Results last year showed the boys lagging behind girls, in some instances as much as 40 percentage points.

“It is not that girls are smarter than boys, it's just they are minimalists,” Maxwell said.

So not only did Maxwell challenge the boys, she also started teaching teachers how to engage the boys and focused on acquiring books that would interest boys.

“Boys aren't as interested in fiction. They like books on creepy crawlies,” she said.

Setting goals and challenging the boys also helped.

“Boys love goals,” Maxwell said. “Like the teachers dressing in girl clothing.”

Both fifth-grade teachers dressed like girls on Wednesday because the boys met their goals.

When Maxwell saw the test scores broken down between boys and girls last month, she was more than pleased, the boys did more than rise to the challenge.

Last year, in reading, for example, third-grade girls scored 81 percent proficient and advanced, while the boys scored 62 percent. When the test scores came back this year, 71 percent of the females scored proficient and advanced, while 74 percent of the males scored proficient and advanced.

In science, Maxwell not only saw boys score better, they also drastically brought up their science scores, along with the females.

Over the years, the science scores have dropped in Dolores Elementary School. In 2007, 52 percent of the students in fifth-grade were proficient or advanced. That number dropped as low as 39 percent in 2010. But when test scores for the TCAP came back in August this year, it showed that 70 percent of the fifth grade students were proficient and advanced. And, when you broke that down further, 78 percent of those were male, while 60 percent were female.

In writing, the boys continue to lag behind a bit, but Maxwell was happy with the gains they made last year. For example, a fourth-grade group in 2011 had 67 percent females proficient and advanced in writing, while 54 percent were male. But in 2012, that same group of students saw 66 percent of the females proficient and advanced in writing, while the boys moved up 3 percentage points to 57 percent.

Maxwell said the school is going to focus on engagement for all students this year.

For example, she said, in a traditional setting a teacher asks a question, and the students raise their hands. If that teacher calls on one student, the only student engaged at that moment is that one student. If all the students write their answer on a slate, for example, that means all the students are engaged.