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Published in Print: June 23, 1999, as The Jump To High School

The Jump To High School

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Studies show that moving from middle school to high school can be a pivotal transition in a student's schooling. But evaluations of the programs developed to ease students through that change are hard to find.

One exception is a report issued this spring that analyzes attempts to establish a program known as Project Transition for 9th graders at two high schools: Milwaukee's Pulaski High School and Schlagle High School in Kansas City, Kan.

To create smaller, more nurturing environments for freshmen, both schools established "academic teams" of about 120 students and four teachers. The teacher teams met on a daily basis to work on professional development and to discuss students' problems. And coaches were appointed to guide teachers as they worked to change their practices.

Compared with 9th graders in previous years who had not been through the program, students in Project Transition considered their environments more supportive, surveys found. At Pulaski, students reported knowing their classmates better. At Schlagle, 9th graders said their teachers cared about them and held high expectations for them.

But the project produced academic benefits only at the Kansas City school. Compared with their predecessors, more Schlagle 9th graders passed their courses in the first year of the program. Schlagle students were also more engaged in school and more independent than their pre-program counterparts. The program did not notably affect students' grades or attendance rates.

One reason for the differences in outcomes between the two schools: The program was more fully implemented at Schlagle High.

"We were gratified to see the relationship between how the effect story turned out and how the implementation story turned out," says Robert C. Granger, a project director and senior vice president of the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp., which developed and evaluated the program.

Even so, the New York City-based research firm concluded, the program's impact was modest.

"This suggests that Project Transition may function as a platform for other school reform interventions," the report notes, rather than as a stand-alone strategy for change. See the MDRC's World Wide Web site for a summary of the report.

-- Debra Viadero

Vol. 18, Issue 41, Pages 33-38

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