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Keller district's Central High School has all males in its top 10 graduates

No girls allowed.

It won't end the battle of the sexes, but 10 students at the Keller district's Central High School have claimed their own little victory.

The top 10 graduates in the Class of 2010 are all boys, an unusual achievement that is not entirely coincidental. When they were freshmen, some of the high-achieving students took note of what they had a chance to pull off.

"We're kind of proud of it. We take pride in that," said Forrest Ripley, 18, Central's valedictorian. "We kind of joked about it and thought it would be great to keep it up."

The highest-ranking girl at Central came in at No. 11. She was knocked out of the top 10 when a junior entered the picture and graduated early.

"I was a little bit heartbroken," said Laura Lewi, 17, who is headed to the University of Texas at Austin. "All the boys were definitely laughing at me, saying that I 'wasn't allowed' in the top 10. ... But it was all in good fun."

While Lewi won't be able to sit with the top 10 graduates onstage for Sunday's graduation ceremony, she will still have a key role in it. As senior class president, she will initiate the turning of the tassels on the mortarboard.

'It just ended up that way'

To have all boys as the top 10 graduates is an anomaly.

A check of 21 Tarrant County public high schools shows that Central is the only one with all boys in the top 10, which is determined strictly by grade-point average. Of the 21 high schools surveyed, 122 girls and 88 boys are in the top 10.

So what's up with Central? Are the boys extra smart? Did the girls have a problem?

Well, not really. Among the top 10 percent of Central's 627-member senior class, 32 are girls and 30 are boys.

"It just ended up that way," said Mark Smith, Keller schools executive director of secondary administration. "Most of the time, the girls outnumber the guys in the top 10. The top 10 is pretty competitive. It comes right down to hundredths of a point."

Nick Mercer, ranked fourth, said one explanation could be that there are plenty of male teachers at Central, which is in far north Fort Worth. "That allows guys to achieve things instead of hanging out and being guys," said Mercer, 17.

A 'boy crisis'?

Keller officials and other educators caution against using the Central case as evidence in the debate over whether there is a gender achievement gap.

Some educators speak of a "boy crisis," saying girls are outperforming boys in the classroom and are enrolling in college at higher rates. A study on gender gaps by the Center on Education Policy released in March found that boys are falling behind girls in reading in all states.

In Texas, girls outperformed boys by 3 percentage points on state tests in elementary and middle school and by 8 points in high school, according to the Washington, D.C.-based organization.

Education Week's most recent diplomas report found that in Texas, the graduation rate for boys was 61.7 percent, about seven points behind that of girls. "The gap in graduation rates between boys and girls is alarming nationally, regionally and in Texas," said Alan Richard, spokesman for the Southern Regional Education Board, an Atlanta-based policy organization and think tank. "State leaders need to know about this situation and take action to improve it."

The college enrollment rate for 2009 high school grads was 73.8 percent for females and 66 percent for males, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But others say the boy crisis is a myth.

A 2008 report by the American Association of University Women in Washington, D.C., said race and family income are more important factors for student success than gender. "Girls' successes don't come at boys' expense," the report said

The study pointed to a report on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a standardized test given to students for four decades, showing that scores are going up for boys and girls.

"We don't see that boys are doing worse than they have in the past. That's not the picture. Boys and girls are doing about the same," said Catherine Hill, research director at the American Association of University Women. "Girls tend to have higher grades in middle school and high school. That would suggest that you would see more of them graduating at the top of their class."

Central's top students agree that extrapolations can't be made from their circumstance. "It don't think it matters," Ripley said. "It's just fun that it just so happened that we're all guys."

Mercer joked: "Of course it matters. This is a major victory for men's rights."

JESSAMY BROWN, 817-390-7326

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