The Importance of Middle School

Reference: Balfanz, R. & Fox, J. (2011). Early warning systems: Foundational research and lessons from the field. National Governors Association Meeting, Philadelphia.

The Challenge

The middle grades are the “make it or break it” years, when some students begin to disengage from school, increasing the likelihood of high school dropout.

Research indicates that students at risk of dropping out can be identified as early as sixth grade.  In fact, sixth graders who display just one of the following off-track indicators have only a 15% – 25% chance of graduating on time:

  • A failing grade in mathematics or English/language arts; or
  • An attendance rate of less than 85%, or
  • One unsatisfactory behavior mark in a core course.

The Solution: Focused Efforts to Ensure Middle School Success

Contrary to popular belief, a strong research base for effective instructional practices in the middle grades does exist. Recent research has identified a set of instructional, support, and data management strategies that accelerate student learning, raise attendance rates, and increase positive behaviors in the classroom. Middle schools should implement these practices widely and with fidelity to reduce students’ risk of high school dropout and prepare them for successful high school and postsecondary experiences.

Take Action

The second edition of the Middle School Matters Field Guide is a collection of research-based principles, practices, and strategies deemed essential for middle school success. All recommendations are based on rigorous research conducted in the middle grades over the past 15 years. It contains examples and illustrations to help educators understand and implement each of these practices in classrooms and schools.

Explore the MSM Field Guide