Single-sex classes at Ryerson help raise achievement for black boys–and girls

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In the May/June issue of Catalyst In Depth, I wrote about Ryerson Elementary School Principal Lorenzo Russell’s experiment with single-sex classroomsas a strategy to curb discipline problems and raise academic
achievement. The focus was on helping black boys in particular at the
West Garfield Park school.

Now, preliminary ISAT scores show Russell’s experiment is working, prompting him to expand it through 8th grade.

In the May/June issue of Catalyst In Depth, I wrote about Ryerson Elementary School Principal Lorenzo Russell’s experiment with single-sex classrooms as a strategy to curb discipline problems and raise academic achievement. The focus was on helping black boys in particular at the West Garfield Park school.

Now, preliminary ISAT scores show Russell’s experiment is working, prompting him to expand it through 8th grade.

This Sunday at noon, Russell and I will be guests on “Perspective,” hosted by Monique Caradine, on WPWR-TV, Channel 50. Saletho Moss, a Ryerson 7th-grader, will also be on the show.

What’s most interesting to me is the impact of the experiment on girls as well as boys. Test scores increased dramatically for girls. In 5th grade, just 38 percent of Ryerson’s boys met state standards on reading tests, compared to half of the girls. The following year–during which Russell launched the single-sex classes–the percentage rose to 52 percent for boys and soared to 70 percent for girls.

Across the city, test scores tend to improve between 5th and 6th grade. Whatever the reason—for one, teachers could be ratcheting up instruction and test prep, since 6th grade is a benchmark year—Ryerson’s scores improved at a faster clip than in the rest of the city or in neighboring schools.

Russell believes it’s important to give students in the pivotal middle grades a space all their own. Moss says he doesn’t get as distracted in a class with just boys.

And for the first time since 2004, the composite score for Ryerson’s male students (at all grades) inched above that for African American boys in the rest of the city: 63 percent compared to 56 percent.

Citywide, the preliminary 2009 ISAT scores released in July showed that the percentage of black male students in all grades who met reading standards improved only slightly, from 52 percent to 53 percent. As a group, they remain the lowest performers in the district.