12-06-2016  4:19 am      •     

EVERETT—Boys score lower than girls in key areas of the state achievement test that will ultimately determine who graduates from high school.

In an analysis of the most recent Washington Assessment of Student Learning results, The (Everett) Herald found that the percentage of boys who passed the writing portion of the test was lower than that of girls at 95 percent of the state's schools.

At many schools, the gender gap is wide — with as many as 40 percent more 10th-grade boys failing the writing exam than girls.

In the reading section of the WASL, boys' test scores this past spring were lower than girls' at 85 percent of high schools. Girls and boys were neck-and-neck with their math scores, the newspaper found.

"We really haven't had the focus between males and females, and I think we ought to pay as much attention to that as we do all the other factors," Gov. Christine Gregoire said.

"I think there is a lot more pressure on boys that it's cool not to be smart," Gregoire added. "That is something that we need to turn around."

The WASL results were for more than 76,000 10th-grade students statewide. Although names and other identifying information were removed, the test results showed the students' gender and school.

The analysis found that overall, 60 percent of the boys in Washington's high schools failed the WASL, compared with 54 percent of girls.

A closer examination revealed that one in four boys failed all three sections of the test — reading, writing and math. Statewide, about 4,000 more boys than girls failed all three key sections of the WASL.

The gender gap on the writing portion of the test was the most stark, with about 16,800 high school boys failing compared with about 9,300 girls.

This year's high school sophomores make up the first class that must pass reading, math and writing WASL exams to graduate.

If last spring's WASL determined who would get a diploma, about 1,400 more girls would be graduating than boys. There were about 1,700 more sophomore boys than girls statewide last school year.

In a report released earlier this year, the New York-based Academy for Educational Development said the gender gap in academic performance constitutes a "growing crisis in boys' education."

"We are not alone," said Michael Gurian, a Spokane-based education researcher and author. "In every state this is a problem, and in all 35 industrialized countries this is a reality. This is a worldwide concern."

In the book he co-authored, "The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind In School and Life," Gurian asserts that girls and boys are programmed differently. Girls tend to be more verbal learners, while boys are more spatial, mechanical and physical, he said. While most children can learn either way, many others struggle.

Ric Williams, assessment director for the Everett School District, recalls the national campaign in the early 1990s to help girls close the achievement gap in math and science. Experts say that crusade has been largely successful. Meanwhile, the wide disparity in verbal skills between boys and girls has gone mostly unnoticed.

What's needed now, Williams said, is another cultural change, including recognition that families must take an active role in advocating for their sons' success in the classroom.

Parents and kids understand what to do if a young pitcher has a good fastball but no slider: They find a good coach, he said.

"We need coaches in reading and writing," Williams said, and family ethics that make doing homework as much a priority as getting a kid to practice on time.

The WASL results mirror other state and national trends: Girls are more likely to make the honor roll, graduate from high school and go to college. Boys are more apt than girls to drop out of high school or end up in special-education programs.

Beginning this year, state law allows four retakes in any WASL subject, and high schools are gearing up to add classes that will help students who fail.

Last year, nearly 75 percent of 10th-grade girls passed the WASL in writing. Boys had a 57 percent pass rate in writing. Tenth-grade girls reached that success rate five years ago.

In the sophisticated world of test-score analysis, where assessment experts dissect WASL results by race, income, disability and the native languages of recent immigrants, the gender gap is a less publicized but growing concern.

"It's really an issue we need to address," said Joel Thaut, superintendent of the Granite Falls School District. "We don't have any answers yet. It just points out we have so much to do."

— The Associated Press

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