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K-8 and 5-8 or 6-8. Grade Configuration: Does it Matter?. Prepared for New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS) by Robert C. Spear Ed.D. Executive Director 460 Boston Street #4, Topsfield MA, 01983, nelms@nelms.org, www.nelms.org.

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k 8 and 5 8 or 6 8
K-8 and 5-8 or 6-8

Grade Configuration:

Does it Matter?

Prepared for

New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS)

by Robert C. Spear Ed.D. Executive Director

460 Boston Street #4, Topsfield MA, 01983, nelms@nelms.org, www.nelms.org

From Programs and Practices in K-8 Schools: Do They Meet the Educational Needs of Young Adolescents?

By C. Kenneth McEwin, Thomas S. Dickinson, and Michael G. Jacobson

(2004, National Middle School Association, Westerville, Ohio):

core curricular offerings
Core Curricular Offerings
  • K-8 schools reported offering language

arts at an average of 16 minutes more

per day than did middle schools.

  • Young adolescents enrolled in K-8

schools are likely to spend more time

in core subjects and less time in

elective classes.

interest class minicourse programs
Interest Class-Minicourse Programs
  • 27% of K-8 schools and 49% of

middle schools reported having

interest class or minicourse


interdisciplinary team organization
Interdisciplinary Team Organization
  • 33% of K-8 schools utilized
    • interdisciplinary teaming as compared
    • with 77% of middle schools.
  • Teaming is utilized by
    • 27% of rural K-8 schools
    • 48% of urban K-8 schools
    • 88% of suburban K-8 schools.
interdisciplinary team organization con t
Interdisciplinary Team Organization (con’t)
  • Teachers in K-8 schools are also much less
    • likely to have common planning periods
    • with other teachers on their teams
  • Teachers in K-8 schools are muchless

likely to have ten planning periods

per week (94%) than those teaching

in middle schools (41% of schools).

interdisciplinary team organization con t1
Interdisciplinary Team Organization (con’t)
  • The percentage of K-8 and

middle schools providing five

common planning periods per

week are almost identical

(39% and 40% respectively)

  • K-8 schools were more likely than

middle schools to have smaller

teams at all grade levels.

advisory programs
Advisory Programs
  • 29% of respondents from K-8 schools

and 48% from middle schools indicated

having advisory programs

      • suburban schools (56%)
      • rural schools (29%)
      • urban schools (29%).
interscholastic sports
Interscholastic Sports
  • K-8 schools and middle schools

have same percentage of

interscholastic sports programs

  • Middle schools offered a wider

variety of sports.

ideal grade organization patterns
Ideal Grade Organization Patterns
  • 73% of respondents from K-8 schools
    • believed that the best grade organization
    • is either a 6-8 middle school (59%) or a
    • 5-8 middle school (14%)
  • Only 16% of K-8 schools respondents
    • believed that the ideal grade organization
    • is K-8
why it is a good idea to have the middle grades in a m s
Why it is a good idea to have the middle grades in a M S ?
  • Fewer disturbances for grades K-5
  • Scheduling improved
  • Students in 5-8 require more time and attention
  • Middle school students cannot be given the best
    • opportunity to succeed in a school that is focused
    • on the early elementary model
  • Fewer negative influences on younger students
  • Too much difference in K-5 and 6-8 teaching
    • philosophy
  • Detachment from elementary is crucial
why it is not a good idea to have the middle grades in a m s
Why it is not a good idea to have the middle grades in a M S ?
  • Interaction with K-5 students is a positive
  • Being affiliated with K-5 keeps instruction more
    • student focused and less subject focused
  • A small school is too small to separate out the
    • middle grades
  • Not enough students for a middle school to work
  • All grades levels should be integrated
  • Keeps the eighth-graders “younger”
  • Older students serve as excellent mentors
  • Mixing older kids with younger kids allows for
    • community
advantages of having the middle grades housed in k 8
Advantages of having the middle grades housed in K-8
  • K-5 students learn from 6-8 students
  • Student behavior is better
  • Cross-age tutoring and mentoring is a plus
  • Develop a better sense of community
  • Stay immature a little longer
  • Transition to the middle grades is easier
  • Teachers know students over a longer
    • period of time
disadvantages of having the middle grades housed in k 8
Disadvantages of having the middle grades housed in K-8
  • Different socially, emotionally, and academically
  • Schedule options are severely limited
  • Being an instructional leader more difficult
  • Middle grade students sometimes harass
    • younger students
  • K-8 doesn’t promote responsibility for upper
    • grade students
disadvantages of having the middle grades housed in k 81
Disadvantages of having the middle grades housed in K-8
  • (con’t)
  • K-8 doesn’t help students develop realistic
  • expectations about high school
  • Older students are more mature and display
    • inappropriate behavior
  • Fewer elective options than a middle school
  • Don’t get to experience advanced activities
analysis of key issues
Analysis of Key Issues
  • 99% of MS principals selected grade

organization patterns that included separately

organized elementary, middle, and senior high

schools. (2000 study)

  • 84% indicated that they believed young
    • adolescents are best served in separately
    • organized middle level schools (K-8 principals)
organization trends
Organization Trends
  • There were 5,552 public K-8 schools
    • in 1988 and 3,170 in 2001.
  • The numbers demonstrate that the
    • majority of educators, policy-makers
    • and other stakeholders favor the
    • tri-level plan of elementary school,
    • middle school, and high school
grade organization and student achievement
Grade Organization and Student Achievement
  • One grade configuration over another

has long been debated, large-scale studies

examining the relationship between grade

configuration and student achievement

have not been conducted ...

  • The question of which grade organization

is associated with the highest

achievement scores remains unanswered

at this point.

developmentally responsive programs and practices
Developmentally Responsive Programs and Practices
  • Programs and practices considered to be
    • essential for effective middle level
    • education were more frequently found
    • in middle schools than in K-8 schools.
school to school transitions
School-to-School Transitions
  • “Students in the P/K/1 to eighth-grade

structure do worse than other students

once the effects of public versus

private school are controlled.” (Lord and Midgley (1991)

  • “largely inconsistent and inconclusive.”

(Eccles, Lord, and Midgley (1991)

  • far too inconclusive to abandon

separately organized middle schools

other reasons given
Other Reasons Given
  • Parents are looking for an elementary-like
    • environment for their children ... however,
    • all schools can and should be safe and
    • nurturing.
  • Less expensive to operate K-8 schools...
    • However they often do not serve young
    • adolescents well.
summary and conclusions
Summary and Conclusions

Grade organization

per se may not make

the difference.

  • Major reorganization decisions

are to often being made based

primarily on anecdotal information

and a very limited research base...

…instead of school districts doing

the difficult and crucial work of

making middle schools what they

could and should be.


“This is another attempt at a magic

bullet, which is much easier than

getting down to the really hard work

of preparing teachers to work with

this age group, having strong curricula

for this age group, and having

personalized schools that hold high

expectations for all kids and also meet

their developmental needs.” Joan Lipsitz


“The positive results from research

offer clear direction for how to

improve middle schools. Rather than

abandoning them for a different

organization that seems less likely

to serve young adolescents well,

educators should stay with [fully]

implementing the middle school concept.”


Only 16% of K-8 principals believed

that the K-8 organization they were

currently heading was ideal for young

adolescents, while 84% favored

separately organized middle schools.


The degree of implementation of

interdisciplinary team organization

at schools enrolling young adolescents

is important because of the high

correlation between the use of

this organizational plan and

student achievement.


The bottom line is that nothing

surfaced in this study to lend

support to moving young adolescents

from middle schools to K-8 schools.