Teenage girls are schooling boys when it comes to academic performance in high school. They've dominated Onalaska High School's top 5 percent all but two of the past 14 years. They earn more A's on their report cards while enrolling in more advanced placement classes at La Crosse Central High School.  

And with graduation just weeks away, they account for 12 of the top 14 seniors at Holmen High School.

"Girls don't feel they have to take a backseat to anyone, whether it's in science or arts or anywhere else," Holmen High School Principal Bob Lecheler said.

"They feel compelled to go after areas of study they are interested in and pursue them with a particular degree of passion," Lecheler said.

Boys are interested in learning, but their female peers are more driven, local teachers and administrators said.

The top female students are multi-taskers who have a high level of maturity and simply try harder, they said. They also may see continued benefits of Title IX, which ensures equal opportunities in school.

Males face social pressures, such as doing well at sports, and often struggle in classrooms more suited for the female learner, they said. Expectations might also might be lower.

"Intellectually I don't think there is a difference," said Annie Mach, a Central High chemistry teacher.

But a gender-based grade report of her chemistry classes showed girls earned significantly more A's, boys more C's, D's and F's. Mach didn't expect to see a difference.

"Grades mean a great deal for those who want to go on to college," she said. "This may close doors for some boys."

Girls have developed the ability to push themselves, Onalaska High School Principal Pete Woerpel said.

"They think they have to be athletic and really smart to make a name for themselves, while guys just have to be a jock and it's not necessarily cool for them to be a brain," Woerpel said.

These young women strive for the A-plus, while young men are willing to settle for lesser marks - and "not get all freaky about it" when the grades appear on their report cards, Woerpel said.

Grade acceptance is evident when looking at Onalaska's top 25 percent, he said. An equal number of boys and girls earn a 3.5 grade-point average or higher and will graduate with high honors, but the top 5 percent is dominated by females.

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Central High School awarded at least one A to 34 percent of its female students during the first semester of the 2007-08 school year, compared with 19 percent of the boys, Associate Principal Jeff Fleig said. The school also had 32 percent of its girls earn at least one B, compared with 29 percent of boys.

That trend appears to continue at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The university's 5,208 women have an average GPA of 3.119, while its 3,918 men score a 2.885.

"Young men aren't performing as well as they should," Fleig said. "I think boys need a very active classroom to learn, where they can move around and actively participate."

Most high school classrooms use instructional practices designed for females - more passive and lecture-based, he said.

Central tried same-gender classes - all boys or girls - for the first time this fall in two English 9 sections, Fleig said.

Grades and participation improved in both sections, leading the school to add more such classes for the next school year, he said.

The school also continues to see more girls enrolling in advanced placement classes, with 139 females to 110 males this school year. The girls also earn better marks in English and science, Fleig said.

"Almost all students in the top 5 percent take vigorous courses," Fleig said. "No one is going though taking the bare minimum. These students are very driven."

The challenges boys experience in high school can date back to their early elementary years, Fleig said. Some experts now recommend boys not start formal schooling until age 6, he said.

Young children in class are expected to sit in straight rows, be quiet and wait their turn, which isn't always conducive to a boy's learning style, said Teri Faulkner, Onalaska School District literacy specialist.

"By fourth grade, the average boy is two years behind most girls in reading and writing and there are more special education referrals of boys," Faulkner said.

"Who knows where it starts," she said. "But it moves into high school and we have to recognize kids today need other methodology in terms of learning."


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