A comparison of traditional 6th - 8th grade middle schools and k - 8th grade academies in the areas of student achievement and school climate
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Researchers differ in their views of the structure of traditional middle and high schools in public education on student performance. They question the effectiveness of school and age level configuration, and its comparability with the age-appropriate cognitive, social and emotional development needs of students. Some believe that eliminating the traditional break between elementary and middle schools would enhance students' overall learning opportunities, particularly for ethnic minority and economically disadvantaged students and reduce the current disparity in student performance between traditional middle schools and K-8 academies. This research is founded on a study of (a) curricular and co-curricular richness of the core program; and (b) the organizational elements of the elementary and intermediate school configurations. This mixed-methods investigation utilized both quantitative and qualitative methods to develop the data. The quantitative method incorporated a comparison of six schools that were once either K-5 elementary schools or 6-8 traditional middle schools but were later reconfigured to encompass all grade levels making them K-8 Academies. The quantitative method was used to evaluate the quality of (a) student performance in mathematics and language arts as determined by state assessments (b) the school climate as perceived by the teachers, parents and community members. Creswell (2005) noted that the combination of quantitative and qualitative data gathering, analysis, and interviews strengthens the understanding of the problem and related research findings. Many school districts with 6-8 traditional middle schools have experienced students not making adequate progress and are considering changing their grade structure to K-8. DeJong and Craig (2002) list the reasons for this conversion to cause fewer transitions for students, to keep students in neighborhood schools, to reduce transportation costs, to improve safety, and to accommodate declining enrollment. The researcher hopes that, along with other current research, this study may serve to compel more school districts to consider adopting alternative grade configurations when students are not making adequate progress in the traditional 6-8 grade configuration.