Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Best Practices in the Middle Grades Identified

How do we improve Middle Schools? Here is a landmark study- the most extensive study of Middle School Grades ever- conducted in California but with implications for states and school districts throughout the country. The report is entitled "Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better- A Large Scale Study of Middle Grades Practices and Student Outcomes". Using students’ test scores as one part of evaluations for teachers, principals, and superintendents is associated with better academic performance at schools serving the middle grades, a report released this week has found.

Quick Summary: Linking students’ test scores with evaluations was one of the “best practices” that high-performing schools serving students in grades 6 to 8 have in common, the report found. The practices were true of high-performing schools regardless of whether they enrolled primarily students from low-income families or mostly from middle-income families.

Here is a short list of key findings:

FINDING: An intense schoolwide focus on improving academic outcomes most distinguishes higher- from lower-performing middle grades schools.

FINDING: In higher-performing schools, curricula and instruction are closely aligned with state academic standards.

FINDING: Higher-performing schools use assessment and other student data extensively to improve student learning and teacher practice.

FINDING: Higher-performing middle grades schools emphasize early identification and proactive intervention for student academic needs.

FINDING: Every role in a professional community of educators is important to making gains in middle grades student outcomes.

FINDING: Leadership of the superintendent and support from the district were strongly associated with higher student outcomes.

FINDING: The changing role of the principal in driving student outcome gains,orchestrating school improvement efforts, and serving as the linchpin between district and teaching staff members, was documented in multiple ways in this study.

FINDING: Teachers with strong competencies, substantive evaluation of their practice, and adequate availability of support, time, and resources work collectively to improve student outcomes schoolwide and individually to improve instruction.

FINDING: The school’s environment and organization of time and instruction were not strongly associated with improved student outcomes, although some practices were associated with higher-performing schools.