Time to Start Grading Middle Schools on High School Readiness

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Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said in an address this year that middle schools were "rife with challenges," but also "ripe for opportunity."

While students citywide are improving in test scores, the chancellor pointed out that seventh- and eighth-grade students were the only ones in New York City actually falling backward in performance on state English tests, and so, he said, "we have a responsibility to do something about our middle schools."

He announced that his office would be opening 50 new middle schools over the next two years.

DESCRIPTIONRachel Elkind Rashid F. Davis

My school, Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn, is in its first year, and we are beginning with only ninth graders, so I can tell you a little bit about what middle schools are producing.

Our 104 students came from 95 different middle schools in New York City, 85 percent of them from Brooklyn and the remaining 15 percent from other boroughs. The P-Tech students came from middle schools that had the following grade distribution on their school progress reports: 21 percent A's, 31 percent B's, 32 percent C's, and the remaining 16 percent among schools that received a grade of D, F or no score.

My school is considered a 9 to 14 model, because students will have the opportunity to earn two years of college credits in addition to a high-school diploma, and graduate in four years with a college associate’s degree. The City of Chicago recently announced plans to form a partnership with I.B.M. to create five schools that will also follow the 9-14 model.

Part of the thinking behind this model is that students have more success when everyone around them is helping them to see that what they are doing today connects to their future success in higher education and even in the working world.

As the chancellor works to put his middle school initiative into place, it is critical that educators from the prekindergarten level all the way to four-year college level communicate more about how to prepare students for more rigorous course work as they progress through their formal education. This is called articulation, the practice of making sure classes from one level fit into the curriculum of the next level.

More meaningful and strategic articulation conversations may yield better progress report outcomes for all schools.

Last summer teachers from P-Tech, professors from City Tech, and industry professionals from I.B.M., both of which are P-Tech partners, started curriculum conversations on the skills necessary to be successful at the college and industry level. They also discussed what is being taught at those levels, what is seen in those seeking entry level positions and how to fill the gaps.

But while many high-performing middle schools are holding conversations all the time about the rigor required to prepare students academically, socially and emotionally to be successful at the next level, they are not happening at all middle schools. They should be.

And with high schools raising expectations, all middle schools should be incorporating high school-level courses in their curriculums. Yet in many of the 95 middle schools we draw from, accelerated courses were not offered. For example, there were no high school integrated algebra, earth science or living environment courses.

It would be helpful if the middle school progress reports included the percentage of their students enrolled in accelerated high school courses. And to take it a step further, the city should include a high school readiness index in the middle school progress report, equivalent to the college readiness index they have started to include in the progress reports for high schools.

As Chicago prepares to open five 9-14 models, I implore them to begin those conversations involving educators in K-8 about how to best prepare students to be successful at the next level. And those conversations need to happen more often in New York City schools as well.