Question: Do middle schools result in higher achievement than junior high schools?
This question addresses the academic outcomes of students in junior high schools that are organized in a manner similar to large comprehensive high schools with departmentalization, 40-50 minute periods, subject area teachers, and competitive sports, as compared to middle schools using various degrees of the five commonly endorsed practices considered essential to the middle level model of schooling: teaming, exploratory courses, co-curricular programs, adviser-advisee arrangements, and intramural activities. These delineations, however, are not consistent, as many junior highs contain middle school components and vice versa.
The issue is complex for several other reasons. The research about achievement often relates academic gains to practices and programs not type of school. These programs may exist in junior high schools or middle schools, although “true” middle schools employ the recommended practices to a greater extent. Another factor is the paucity of research in the effectiveness of practices, the difficulty of comparing studies, and weak and conflicting research methodologies. Also, the aggregation of data may wash out the effects of variables such as organization issues and other inputs as teacher and student characteristics; as a result, many studies ignore the relationships between organizations, community, and teaching-learning outcomes.
Contextual factors may also confound the effects of a specific practice, and perceptions of teachers and principals may result in biased criterion measures. For example, the research on teaming exemplifies both the complexity of numerous variables affecting outcomes, the challenges of collecting usable data from teams, and the various research methods that make generalizing from several studies difficult. As a final consideration, the assumption underlying achievement is its relationship to gains made by all types of students, making relevant programs and practices which keep at-risk students above their level of vulnerability and lowers absenteeism and drop-out rate.
It is therefore understandable that studies addressing the relationship between school factors (organization/programs/practices) and achievement show mixed results.
Studies related to achievement and programs and practices yield varied results. Looking at the effects of teaming on achievement, two studies of the past two decades concluded that neither interdisciplinary team organization nor the traditional departmental organization promoted greater student achievement. On the other hand, in an experimental study of 67 pairs of seventh graders, matched in interdisciplinary and departmental organizations, found math gains for interdisciplinary and equal reading achievement gains for both groups. These studies indicated gains in achievement and/or affective outcomes, although conclusions about the model were unclear. We found modest positive gains in achievement and engagement in academic work for students in less departmentalized environments and more team teaching in combination with heterogeneous groups.
Researchers pointed to the problems inherent in determining the effects of teaming, while noted inconsistent findings of team-related studies. There is also little conclusive research on the effectiveness of advisory-advisee programs on achievement.
Two of three studies related to schools and achievement show gains for restructured middle level schools. We looked at the various stages of restructuring middle schools in a longitudinal study of 1250 students and 622 teachers in schools rated on levels of implementation of new recommendations. The researchers found greater student outcomes in achievement, behavior, and socio-emotional factors in schools with higher levels of implementation of new recommendations as compared with the more traditional approaches of junior highs.
The percentage of students passing all courses was higher than in the national normative group. The holding power of these schools was generally very high; five of the eight schools reported that all students completed the school year. The significance of the holding power impacts achievement when value centers on the importance of achievement gains for all types of students.
We examined 76 community-based or consolidated rural schools for relationships between middle school and demographic variables. We have found significant correlations between socioeconomic status of students and achievement, confirming previous achievement findings.
Studies of high schools which are restructuring in ways similar to middle level schools conclude that more caring environments of communally organized schools as compared to bureaucratically organized schools affect achievement.
These studies confirm the findings of other researchers that, although specific practices, programs, and teachers may affect student achievement, it is more likely that the combination of teacher/student interactions, practices, and programs affect student outcomes