In the News: Sixth Grade Is Tough; It Helps To Be ‘Top Dog’

On NPR, Anya Kamenetz reports on a study that finds that sixth graders who attend K-8 schools do better than sixth graders who attend middle schools.

Middle schoolers report higher rates of bullying and fights than students in any other grade span, and their academic performance also tends to dip. But things could be a little better — if we just got rid of middle schools, according to a big new study.

She explains

In the K-8 schools, those tweens and young teens were the “top dogs” — the oldest, the most comfortable and familiar with the school. But, in traditional middle schools and 6-12 schools, sixth-graders were the “bottom dogs.”

The study found that when students were not the “bottom dogs,” they felt safer, less bullying, less fighting and a greater sense of belonging.

A 2010 study published in Education Next, “Stuck in the Middle: How and why middle schools harm student achievement,” found that

In the specific year when students move to a middle school (or to a junior high), their academic achievement, as measured by standardized tests, falls substantially in both math and English relative to that of their counterparts who continue to attend a K–8 elementary school.

In a later study published in Education Next, “The Middle School Plunge: Achievement tumbles when young students change schools,” researchers wrote

The achievement drops we observe as students move to both middle and high schools suggest that moving from one school to another (or simply being in the youngest grade in a school) adversely affects student performance.

—Education Next

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