Some scholars affirm that grade configuration seems to play an important role on students’ academic achievements. Nonetheless, Schwerdt and West (2011) highlight that the way grades are set is still largely ignored by most of the literature about the differences in students’ achievements across the country. According to a study carried out by Schwerdt and West (2011) in Florida public schools, students who move to middle schools have their academic performance substantially decreased in subjects such as math and reading. One of the reasons is that they have a hard time transitioning from the elementary school to the middle school setting. In addition, they are also more prone to drop out of school by grade 10. In the 1960s, educational reformers started to argue that as young adolescents have peculiar social, cognitive and neural needs, it would be best to place them in completely separate buildings with well-prepared middle school teachers (p.3). Although it was one of largest efforts at educational reorganization in the history of American education, just the fact of designating an institution as “middle school” would not guarantee that young adolescents would have their needs met (Brown and Knowles, 2007, p. 79). Therefore, there have been organizations such as the Nacional Middle School Association (NMSA) in 1973 and the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1986 that have advocated and developed strategies to meet teens’ specific developmental needs. For instance, due to neural and cognitive changes during early adolescence, middle schoolers have the need of “challenging learning experiences in order to sustain cognitive growth process” (p. 27). In other words, preparing middle school students for reaching proficiency in high-stakes tests should not be an educational goal per se; it should be the results of a well-rounded education. Problem-solving skills, critical thinking, historical awareness and scientific knowledge are critical in a society in which the focus has shifted from industrial production to knowledge/ innovation production.
The K-8 Model is another grade that has been discussed in the educational field. Some advantages would include having a smaller school and mitigating behavioral problems that normally occur in large middle schools (Brown and Knowles, 2007, p. 88). In another study developed by Schwerdt and West (2011), this time using data from schools in New York City, they found that students attending grades 5-8 or K-8 schools outperformed middle school students in grades 6-8. On the other hand, Brown and Knowles (2007) alert for the pitfalls of the K-8 model such as less exploratory and extracurricular activities directed specifically for young adolescents; less common planning time, and educators might not be well-prepared to teach teens and address their unique needs, since the organizational focus of the institution is on the elementary rather than the middle school level. With regards to junior high schools, one can clearly realize that as the K-8 model, junior highs lack the appropriate staff and are more concerned with keeping the content-specific curricula instead of developing practical and active curricula designed to address early adolescents’ specific transformations.
After all, one might infer that the key problem is not the structure of the school, but how they address young adolescents’ unique developmental needs (Brown and Knowles, 2007, p. 89). One might also think that in order to facilitate the process of staffing and create specific school protocols, the middle school grade configuration might be the best option. Yet, the physical structure or grade configuration of a middle school serves solely as a facilitator to implement the needed curricula change, which is also a change in the mechanical world view paradigm. I strongly believe that students need just as much socio-emotional development as academic excellence and that without socio-emotional development, academic excellence will hardly be achieved. Therefore, it is crucial that schools, parents and community work together in order to create middle schools that fit into young adolescents’ physical, cognitive and neural transformations.
Brown, Dave, and Trudy Knowles. What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know. 2nd ed. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann, 2007. 290. Print.
Schwerdt, Guido, and Martin West. “The Impact of Alternative Grade Configurations on Student Outcomes through Middle and High Schools.” Harvard Graduate School of Education (2011): 49. Ed Week. Web. 28 Feb. 2015. <http://www.edweek.org/media/gradeconfiguration-13structure.pdf