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Schools tout early success of same-sex classes

Single-sex classrooms have emerged in some area schools with positive results. Thomson Middle School holds single-sex classes in almost all of its connection classes. Dearing Elementary fifth graders are separated except for reading and math, where they are separated according to ability level. Warren County Middle School divides all its seventh grade classes.

And the new trend is not isolated to local schools. According to an Associated Press report in June 2006, more than 200 public schools across the country currently offer some single-sex classrooms - up from just four in 1998.

"We have noted many advantages to this - the biggest being the improvement in academics among the boys," said Carole Jean Carey, the superintendent of Warren County Schools.

This is the first year the seventh grade has had two all-boy classes and one all-girl class. Ms. Carey said the reason for the change was purely academic. She said there had been a large gender achievement gap on the Criterion Referenced Competency Test in that grade level.

"(The students) needed a little extra something to spur them on educationally," she said.

Although the school year isn't over, Ms. Carey said they have already seen improvements, with the gap closing in English/Language Arts from 20 points down to 8.7 and in Math from 16 points down to 7.3. The CRCT is given annually, so Ms. Carey said this year's results are from the school's own testing.

The boys also outnumber the girls almost two-to-one in Dearing. Fifth grade chair Christa Arrington said they began separating the two genders during the 13th week of school after experiencing some discipline problems. Ms. Arrington said she and the other two fifth grade teachers had heard about the success of single-sex classrooms, and they presented the idea to Principal Laura Hughes as a possible solution to the discipline issues.

"We definitely noticed changes in behavior right away. Those problems that we were struggling with have been minimized," Ms. Arrington said.

Ms. Arrington admits they haven't been doing it long enough to accurately tell if there is an improvement academically, but the teachers give good reports. Ms. Arrington said the Language Arts teacher has noticed a difference in the topic choices the students make for their writing lessons.

"When it's time to write about what interests them, they tend to make gender-specific choices," she said. "It's neat to be able to adjust here and there with their assignment topics."

The Associated Press article stated that research shows the genders learn in different ways, with girls' vision and thought processes responding better to color and detail, while boys' brains are more apt at processing motion and direction.

But the separation of the sexes also brought about new issues, Ms. Arrington said. Some new "social issues" emerged within the girls' class when they were all grouped together.

"We have really worked hard since we changed to the gender specific classrooms to help them deal with those specific social issues. So it's kind of opened up some doors, too. We've been able to help the children learn how to succeed," she said.

Thomson Middle School takes the opposite viewpoint. According to Assistant Principal Pam Rhea, the school separates the students by gender in connection classes but not academics.

Connection classes are those not on standardized tests such as band, chorus, computer and art, Ms. Rhea said. The teachers requested the separation for physical education classes, because all PE classes are held in the gym.

"Middle schoolers are just an interesting age, and we felt they would do better if all girls, or all boys, were in the gym together at one time," she said.

In order for the schedule to work during PE, the separation had to continue "across the board" with almost all connection classes, Ms. Rhea said.

"We just put it in place last year, and it seems to have gone really well," the assistant principal said. "Our teachers are saying it works really well."

Although it is working, Ms. Rhea said there are no plans to infiltrate the plan into the academic classes.

"As far as academic classes, the jury is kind of out on that right now," she said. "The research says in some areas it works great, but there are flaws in the whole plan. For example, when you get into the real world, you have to work well with the opposite sex. And if you don't ever have a chance to do that in school, then how do you gain that skill?"

In an effort to keep up with the trend, the United States Department of Education last October amended previous regulations to allow schools more flexibility in offering single-sex classes and activities and still remain consistent with the nondiscriminatory requirements of Title IX, which was passed in 1972. The new regulations, which went into effect November 24, 2006, states schools may offer the classes as an option along with coed classes in the same subject; and, must conduct self evaluations every two years to prove the classes are meeting their objectives.

Web posted on Thursday, February 22, 2007

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