Middle School Educators Give ‘Looping’ High Marks

By Millicent Lawton — November 13, 1996 3 min read
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Middle school educators who follow the practice of banding together the same students with the same teachers for more than one year give it high marks, a recent survey shows.

Researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville presented the results of the survey this month at the National Middle School Association’s annual convention here. The Columbus, Ohio-based organization drew about 9,800 attendees to the Oct. 31-Nov. 3 event.

The researchers identified 70 schools nationwide that use such “long-term teacher-student relationships,” also known as looping. Thirty-three schools in 14 states, or 55 percent of those asked, took part in the survey, which was conducted in the 1995-96 school year. Educators, parents, and students responded.

Educators were the most positive about the long-term relationships, with students coming in second. Parents, while generally upbeat, were the least enthusiastic of the three groups. As a whole, parents expressed concern that children would be saddled with a so-called bad teacher for more than a year--even if their own children had not been exposed to such a predicament, the researchers said.

The vast majority of schools in the survey kept students and teachers together for either two or three years. Seventeen of the schools grouped students from different grade levels; 11 used “student-teacher progression,” in which students from one grade level stayed with the same teachers. Five schools used a variation of one of those methods.

Teachers were asked a variety of questions about how the multiyear relationships affected aspects of schooling.

Eighty-four percent of them said that the approach helped classroom management, and 93 percent said it made them more likely to get in touch with a parent about a student who was having trouble. Seventy-six percent said the technique helped teachers increase the time students spent “on task” in class. Ninety percent said that achievement improved for less successful students because teachers were better able to figure out what they needed; 72 percent said the relationship made teachers feel more responsible for student success.

Because the study was based on those surveys that respondents chose to return, there may be some “advocacy bias” at work in the findings, acknowledged Paul S. George, the University of Florida education professor who conducted the survey. Most mail surveys have similar limitations.

Nonetheless, Mr. George said in an interview, the data “suggest that this may be a very positive organizational strategy.”

Louisiana public schools with middle-level students are largely ignoring the recommendations of an oft-cited report about educating that age group, a recent study shows.

The study examined to what extent schools with 6th, 7th, or 8th graders were practicing the advice given in both the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development report, “Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century,” and a parallel state document that promotes the Carnegie recommendations.

Some of the reforms or techniques hailed in the report and regarded as central to middle-level education were among the least used in Louisiana, said Myles M. Seghers, the deputy superintendent of schools in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. He conducted the study last year as his doctoral dissertation at the University of New Orleans and presented the findings at the middle school conference.

Mr. Seghers surveyed the principals at 253 schools statewide and got responses from 154, or 60.9 percent.On average, according to principals’ responses, the Carnegie recommendations most commonly used were: providing students with an environment that is “emotionally safe” and hiring teachers who are committed to young adolescents and who “promoted healthful lifestyles.”

Among the least common practices: organizing teachers into teams, offering students “exploratory” classes similar to electives, administering alternative assessments, and placing teachers and students in “houses” or schools within schools.

The study also found a correlation between the schools’ use of notable curricular and teaching practices and better scores among 6th graders on some parts of the California Achievement Test and among 7th graders on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program. The practices included hiring teachers certified to teach middle-level students, emphasizing thinking and problem-solving skills, and teaching an integrated curriculum oriented toward real-life experiences.

A version of this article appeared in the November 13, 1996 edition of Education Week as Middle School Educators Give ‘Looping’ High Marks


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