Marilyn Thomas and Crystal Collins
Southern Regional Education Board
Drawing upon many recent studies that highlight the positive correlation between middle and high school achievement, this report from SREB stresses the importance of aggressively raising standards and improving curricula across the middle grades. Looking at state and NAEP test scores of its 12 member states, SREB concludes that modest gains over the past five years do not diminish the need to do more to ensure that middle schools are adequately preparing students to succeed in high school. Studies have shown that declining individual achievement in the middle years is a serious problem--high school dropout indicators can be traced as far back as sixth grade--but schools have too often focused in this critical early-adolescent period not on academics but on concerns with identity, self-respect and such. (See Fordham's report on this topic by Cheri Yecke.) To curb these troubling trends, SREB has five recommendations for states: rework reading curricula to implement effective instructional strategies; restructure math curricula so that eighth graders can reach Algebra prepared (as opposed to simply having all eighth graders take Algebra, ready or not); provide an accelerated catch-up curriculum for students who enter middle school not on grade level; improve certification and professional development for middle school teachers; and engage students in educational and career planning. None of these moves is exactly revolutionary--or applicable only to middle school--but it never hurts to reemphasize them again during the years that could make or break a student's future. Read it here.