While decades of efforts have allowed female students statistically to catch up to their male counterparts in science and math, males have yet to catch up to females in reading and writing. Also, they require more physical activity, hands-on activities and individualized lessons to excel than typically can be afforded in modern classrooms, said Jim Myers, chairman of the Pinellas Education Foundation.
National school reforms in the 1950s heightened literacy requirements for students earlier and earlier in their education, and many experts blame that for the increase in the number of young males being diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and ending up in the “pipeline to prison.”
Yet those literacy standards are about to get higher. Keeping male students engaged in class will become increasingly important and difficult as the school district shifts to the Florida Standards next school year. The new educational requirements are built on the nationwide Common Core State Standards that require students to do more reading and writing in every school subject.
“When you listen to all the statistics, I feel like I should say, ‘My name is Mike Grego and I’m a recovering male,’” the Pinellas County schools superintendent told a room of community leaders. “There’s no silver bullet, there’s no one answer. … We don’t get to choose who walks through our thresholds, but we do have to choose how we’re going to ensure those children do not fail.”
On the 2013 Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test reading section, only 53 percent of male third-graders statewide earned proficient scores, compared to 61 percent of female students. In Pinellas, only 51 percent of males passed compared to 62 percent of females. That discrepancy is echoed on the 10th grade reading FCAT, with 49 percent of male students in Pinellas earning a three or higher on the test compared to 54 percent of females.
At the same time, the number of young males diagnosed with ADHD in the U.S. has increased by 37 percent since 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and by high school nearly 20 percent of boys will have been diagnosed with ADHD. In 2013, 11 percent all children between ages 4 and 17 were diagnosed with the disorder — about 6.4 million children — and boys were more than twice as likely than girls to be diagnosed.
Curbing the number of young males being prescribed medication to make it through their school day could be as simple as introducing more hands-on, interactive lessons in schools, said Eric Tridas, director of the Tridas Center for Child Development in Tampa.
“Having an attention deficit disorder is often nothing more than being a hyperactive, spacey kid,” Tridas said. “Then think about the expectations schools place on students just in kindergarten through third grade; they have to learn to read, write, do multiplication tables, and we can’t clutter that process with too many other expectations because no one is ever going to teach these kids to read again. … We have to find a way to get these students to master those skills on an individual level through appealing to their own interests.”
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