New Study Shows that Middle Schools Can Make a Big Difference

We now know, based on a large-scale research study by EdSource and Stanford University, why some middle-grade schools do better than others, irrespective of the socioeconomic level of their students. According to the findings, school practices related to instruction mean more than family income in predicting student success.

SJ2020: Pay attention here, for the goal of ending the achievement gap in 10 years is achievable. The research findings in Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades were presented on Friday, March 19, at the 33rd Annual EdSource Forum on California Education Policy. Middle grades are said to be the last, best chance to keep students on track for success in high school, college and career. Middle grades are a very important puzzle piece in reducing the drop-out rate while increasing the secondary graduation rate.

This study demonstrates that there are certain actionable practices that can change learning outcomes for students on the California Standards Tests. These data suggest a hierarchical relationship of strategic practices that will make a substantive difference in student achievement. More than 300 California schools in the middle grades, all principals of those schools, 3,750 teachers and 157 superintendents were surveyed for the study.

In March Madness, an all-court press in the last minutes of a basketball game can lead to victory, especially when a team is behind by a few hoops. In this study the all-court press is used as a school-wide metaphor to say that all staff, principal, and superintendent must be on the same page and work intensively to focus all their efforts on increasing student achievement.  Can you say that about your child’s school and district?

Out of the 10 study domains of practice in the research that correlate with student success the intense focus on academic outcomes is more significant than the other nine. One key finding under this domain’s umbrella is that highly performing schools expect students and parents to share the responsibility for student learning while adults are held accountable and take responsibility for improved student outcomes.

To read the entire study and review all 10 domains of practice that increase student achievement go to

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.

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