Increase Readiness Among Middle School Students with Personalized Learning
This time of year, I can’t help but think of the many middle school students who will soon advance to high school. The troubling truth is that many of these students are under-prepared for the rigors of high school coursework.
Weak foundations and gaps in prerequisite skills and concepts put many students at risk of course failure in the 9th grade. These weak foundations can trigger a house-of-cards effect. Students who experience early and reinforcing patterns of failure may lose motivation and hope to graduate. Without effective support, they’ll fall further and further behind and become more likely to drop out of school.
It’s important that districts identify middle school students who need intervention and take steps to get them back on grade level and really ready for high school. One of those steps is to implement a personalized learning program...that has the capacity to equitably maintain high levels of rigor for all students while providing a system of support to:
Prepare middle school students for high school success
Remediate underprepared learners
Increase instructional capacity to support all learners
The Middle School Achievement Gap
Making the transition from middle to high school is a big transition in more ways than one. Students’ academic workloads increase. Students gain independence, but also responsibility. There’s a social aspect to the transition, too. Students from multiple middle schools often converge to form larger class cohorts in bigger schools with more teachers.
The traditional model of instruction treats all of these students the same. It assumes that all students learn in the same way and at the same pace. It doesn’t take into account circumstances that might cause students to miss critical information in class. Students have “off” days, for example, where paying attention is a challenge. They might get sick. They might miss class due to suspension or expulsion. Or, they might feel disengaged — that they can’t connect with their teachers or understand the real-world connection to their coursework.
When students miss critical information, they begin to develop learning weaknesses. The more a student is absent or falls behind, the bigger and more problematic those weaknesses become. Very soon, weak foundations in prerequisite skills crumble into large achievement gaps that only worsen as students progress through middle school to high school. In the U.S., these gaps are particularly wide in Algebra I and English I. Nationally, 33% of eighth-grade students performed at or above the Proficient level on 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics assessments; 34% performed at or above the same level on 2015 NAEP reading assessments.
Consequence of the Middle School Achievement Gap
These two courses, Algebra I and English I, are considered gateways to high school success. Students who are under-prepared for the concepts and skills taught in these classes often find themselves unable to access and learn new grade-level concepts.
We know that student achievement correlates with students’ levels of engagement and motivation. Failure can have a detrimental impact. When students fail repeatedly, they may not see a way to recover. They may begin to feel like their hard work isn’t paying off, which can lead them to believe they’ll never succeed no matter what efforts they make. This, in turn, hinders motivation and can keep a student from working to achieve learning goals.
If students aren’t working hard to meet their learning goals, achievement gaps widen. These achievement gaps contribute to declines in graduation and in college- and career-readiness assessment scores. In fact, middle school achievement gaps significantly lower the likelihood that students will graduate at all. For those who do graduate, many must take remedial English and mathematics coursework before they are eligible to begin college credit-bearing coursework or certificate programs.