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Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better


"Educators widely recognize that the quality of preparation in middle school often determines whether our young people will succeed in high school and beyond. This is a particularly important challenge in California-the nation's largest and most diverse state-which educates one out of eight middle grades students in the United States.

What district and school policies and practices are linked to higher student performance in the middle grades? To find out, a research team led by EdSource spent 18 months conducting the most extensive study ever of middle grades.

Besides EdSource, the team included professors Michael Kirst (as principal investigator) and Edward Haertel (as technical director) of Stanford University; senior research scientist Jesse Levin (as principal data analyst) at American Institutes for Research, and special consultant William Padia (retired) deputy superintendent of Assessment and Accountability, California Department of Education. In addition, Robert Balfanz, principal research scientist, Everyone Graduates Center, Johns Hopkins University, served as an advising consultant. (bios for full team below)

The study surveyed more than 4,000 California teachers, principals, and superintendents about a wide range of middle grades practices. To see what higher-performing schools did, the responses were then analyzed against school-level student outcomes on standards-based state tests in English language arts and math, controlling for student background.

The major contribution of this study is the set of interrelated, actionable practices that middle grades educators and leaders can implement now by making smart, strategic choices."

View Follow-up Analysis: Improving Middle Grades Math Performance