- A new study published this month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Urban Economics warns against hasty moves to abolish middle schools in favor of a K-8 configuration, Chalkbeat reports.
- Though the researchers note the same dip in math scores in the 6th grade transition year as found in previous studies, long-term math performance was essentially the same as that for students in a K-8 school.
- Reading results were more surprising, with students attending separate middle schools outperforming their K-8 peers.
As populations and budgetary priorities shift, school districts often must reassess grade-level combinations to maximize space, teacher distribution, and academic success. Some schools in rural areas and some charter and private schools offer all grade levels on one campus. Other schools separate early education (Pre-K to 2nd) from older elementary grades and then offer middle and high schools. Still others combine grades K-8 so that students face only one transition in high school. There are a wide variety of grade-level combinations, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Middle schools were established based on the idea that in early adolescence, students are entering a new stage of social-emotional development that requires special attention. However, the growing body of research on the value of middle schools has offered varying results. Some studies suggest that bullying actually increases with a middle school arrangement. Recent research suggests that academic performance improves long-term with a middle school arrangement while others suggest that middle school should be abolished because of its negative academic impact and negative impact on graduation outcomes.
School administrators could get bogged down in all the shifting sands of research on the issue. However, the truth is that, like most school district decisions, the impacts vary depending on the situation. While the issue deserves attention, researchers at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory caution against putting too much weight on the outcomes as “no particular grade configuration is the ‘magic bullet’ to improving student achievement.” They cite a 2006 study which states that, “Rather than debate which grade configuration is best for middle grades, we would be better off expending our energy creating a curriculum that intellectually engages and inspires young adolescents, pushing for organized structures that support high-quality relationships, and finding better ways to reach out to families and communities.”