Middle-Level Education
April 20, 2010

NYSUT's Caught in the Middle

Source: Research and Educational Services

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Helping students avoid the middle-school trap

New York's middle schools are being tested and they are being found sorely wanting. Almost without exception, New York State's middle schools are struggling - and too often failing - to sufficiently prepare their students to meet higher academic standards. Last year, more than half of New York's eighth-graders failed to meet state standards in English and math. The shortcomings in academic performance revealed by the eighth-grade test results have many causes. Behind this poor academic performance is a fundamental flaw in the way many districts view the education of early adolescents. It is an unflattering little secret that the state and school districts are reluctant to acknowledge.

In far too many places, school districts mistakenly allow the organization and structure of their schools to dictate the education program that students in grades 5 through 8 receive. State Education Department policies on middle schools actually encourage this. Many elementary schools and junior high schools that contain combinations of grades 5, 6, 7 and 8 operate on the premise that middle-level education is something that only takes place in schools designated as middle schools.

Additionally, many school districts create middle schools to meet space needs and address enrollment shifts. Instead of seeing middle education as a supportive but academically rigorous bridge between the elementary grades and high school, they choose what is cheapest or most convenient over what is educationally sound.

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