AUGUSTA — A proposal to allow girls and boys to be separated into single-gender classrooms for some math classes won unanimous approval from the Augusta Board of Education on Wednesday.

Educators hatched the idea — based on the concept that boys and girls learn differently — after seeing that separating the sexes produced better test results for both genders in some pilot programs across the country.

They looked into trying such a program here due a to a large discrepancy between the performance of boys and girls in the math section of last year’s eleventh-grade SAT test. Girls performed much worse than their male peers, with some 46 percent not meeting standards.

“Girls were not performing as well as boys in math,” said Curriculum Coordinator Tina Meserve. “We did some brainstorming and talked about what might help solve the problem. One of the ideas was a single-gender class. Pilot programs have had some nice results. One showed a 20 percent improvement in the scores of both boys and girls.”

Board member Nathanael Rende, himself a former math teacher, said he has talked about the discrepancy with other teachers.

“We talked about the social aspect of classrooms, and how we’d get better performance out of students,” if that were altered, Rende said. “Anything we can do to improve the performance of that population is worth giving a try, rather than just pulling our hair out.”


Separating girls and boys would only occur in the “math strategies” class at Cony High School, which is for students struggling with math as they enter high school.

Meserve said the discrepancy in test scores between boys and girls was generally found in students who struggle in math. She said top male and female students tend to do equally well in math.

But while the board vote gives school officials the option of dividing students by gender for math strategies, it’s an option they don’t intend to take until they need it.

Meserve and Pat Hannigan, teacher and math department chairwoman at Cony, said this year’s SAT scores didn’t show a major discrepancy between boys and girls. They said gender-specific classes would only be used if and when test results indicate girls in a given class aren’t meeting the same standards as boys in the same class.

“We want to get the board’s approval on single-gender classes so we can pop it into math strategies classes when we see a need,” Hannigan said. “So whether it’s next fall or the following year, we have the capacity to do that. It’s not just about the girls. I think gender-specific classes help both genders.”

Federal law was changed in 2006 to allow single-gender classes. If girls and boys are separated, Meserve said teachers would likely use slightly different teaching methods for each, honing in on what methods work best for each gender.

Cony currently has one male and one female math strategies teacher.

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