Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades
Lessons From California
As expectations for a more highly educated American citizenry rise, what happens in the middle grades matters more now than ever. The middle grades are the last, best chance to identify students at risk of academic failure and get them back on track in time to succeed in high school. Moreover, success in key subjects in the middle grades is a prerequisite to being able to enter high school academically prepared for a college- and career-ready path.
In recent years, educators and policymakers have debated about what should be done to improve performance in the middle grades. In the absence of solid research evidence about what works, school districts have reshuffled grade configurations (for example, extending elementary school to K-8, or beginning middle school in grade 5), bolstered their focus on “academic rigor,” and worked to ensure that their 11- to 14-year-old students are engaged in school while they go through the turbulence of puberty. Educators have argued for these and other approaches—all based on theory and philosophy, because there has been little student-outcomes-based research available.
That’s why a team of researchers from our respective institutions, EdSource and Stanford University, decided to look into the “black box” of middle school performance, to systematically analyze what district and school policies and practices are linked to higher student performance. With funding from Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix and a former president of the California state board of education, we spent 18 months conducting the most extensive study to...
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- Ann Arbor Public Schools, Ann Arbor, MI
- Roaring Fork School District, Carbondale, CO
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- Maryland State Department of Education, MD
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- Portola Valley School District, Portola Valley, CA