If middle school students are going to be better-prepared for college, schools need to focus on tools other than standardized tests, says a new report published this week by the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research. Entitled "Looking Forward to High School and College," the research shows that for students to succeed, they need to be in class every day and receiving support to boost achievement.
Lauren Fitzpatrick of the Chicago Sun-Times reports a new program is being introduced for 11 Chicago Public Schools, as well as 23 more schools managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, to help their middle school kids make a strong transition to high school.
Keeping ninth-graders in school and assuring that they do not fail more than one mandatory course has been emphasized as a key goal, and now researchers have shown that these factors are important for middle school as well.
"There's definitely students that we can already see are at risk for failing in high school and we can identify them throughout the middle grade years, and those are students that are chronically absent or getting F's in their classes already in the middle grades," said consortium director Elaine Allensworth, "and we know those students are set up for failure if we keep on as business as usual for them."
Allensworth added that a student's grades over the entire year tell more than standardized test taken once a year. Continued and consistent effort, being in class, doing well across the entire course-load and producing assignments throughout the whole year seem to be what makes the difference.
In Chicago Public Schools, along with many districts nationwide, students are required to take several standardized tests each year, the results of which are used to evaluate teachers and calculate each school's rating. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett agreed that:
"â¦ attendance and grades play an essential role in student's success in elementary school, high school and beyond, as evidenced by the fact we have successfully implemented initiatives that have resulted in improved attendance rates in recent years. However, standardized tests both help inform classroom instruction and gauge student achievement, while also providing students, teachers and schools with a universal measure of performance."
Another tool used for Chicago Public Schools' children is the Success Project, launched at Claremont Academy Elementary School by another group of researchers at the University's Urban Education Institute. The project for 10 schools on the South and West Sides of the city will monitor children in grades six, seven, and eight, watching GPAs, attendance, and involvement in a course, "6 to 16" (6th grade through college) to help students think about the reasons that middle school, high school, and college align to give them the opportunity to go where they want to go in life. The "6 to 16" program includes high school tours for middle school students, mentoring for students who struggle to get to school, and interview and resumÃ©-writing skills workshops.
The authors of the study, Elaine Allensworth, Julia Gwynne, Paul Moore, and Marisa de la Torre, summed up the key findings of the report.
A student who has a GPA of at least a 3.0 when leaving eighth grade will have a moderate chance of earning a 3.0 in high school, which is a common GPA threshold pointing to post-secondary education.
Being ready for high school depends not only on academic performance in middle school, but also on the context into which students enter high school. Students with the same academic record in middle school have different high school outcomes depending on which high school they attend.
Finding ways to improve a student's attendance may have as much an effect on high school and college graduation than do efforts at improving a student's test scores — and potentially even more. Attendance is a better predictor of a student's passing high school classes than are standardized test scores.