A research report released last month, conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR), entitled "Middle School Grade Indicators of Readiness in Chicago Public Schools", states that doing well in middle school is a solid indicator of whether a students will succeed in college.
Karen Farkas of the Northeast Ohio Media Group reports that if a student has at least a 3.0 grade point average during the middle school years that student has the likelihood of earning that same grade point average in high school — and a 3.9 grade point average or higher in high school indicates that a student will experience success in college.
The study followed 20,000 students in Chicago public schools as they transitioned from elementary school to high school and discovered that middle school attendance and grades were more important than test scores at predicting high school success.
"Much of the pressure to improve educational attainment is on high schools, but focus has also turned to earlier grades," the study says. "There is a very large population of students who struggle with the transition from the middle grades to high school, raising concerns that high school failures are partially a function of poor middle grade preparation."
The onus is now on officials to determine what skills are needed by students in middle school and to look at the possibility of identifying students who are in danger of struggling in high school and college.
The CCSR was established in 1990 after the Chicago School Reform Act was passed, a move which decentralized governance of Chicago's public schools. Researchers at the University of Chicago joined with leaders in the school district and other organizations to study this restructuring and the effects it will have in the long-term.
An article written by Jenn Stanley for The Heartland Institute, states that the continued emphasis on standardized testing as a benchmark of academic potential is challenged by the findings of the study by CCSR. Many Chicago teachers say that the tests measure only a single skill set, and "teaching to the test" takes valuable class time which could be used for remedial reading lessons and other basic skills.
One of the authors of the study, Julia Gwynne, a senior research analyst at the University of Chicago, says early intervention is crucial.
"The key takeaway with this study is that if you have students in the middle grades that are chronically absent, which means their attendance rates are less than 90 percent, or if your students are failing in those middle grades, it's pretty likely that they are not going to do well in high school," Gwynne said.
She adds that each child is different and that none of the findings are written in stone. But, she continues, "the path to high school graduation and career readiness begins much earlier than many people think."