Monday, January 30, 2006

Grade Configuration

Another of the recent 8 recommendations approved by the Board was the study of moving 9th grade from our Junior High Schools to our High Schools. I strongly supported this recommendation, along with Director Johnson's amendment which requested additional consideration of all grade configurations.

There were two primary reasons for my support. First, 9th grade, of course, is already "high school" when it comes to academic credit and athletics. However, 9th graders located physically at a junior high school do not have easy access to many of the resources that they would if located at a high school. These resources include: high school counselors, advanced placement courses, four continuous years of vocal and instrumental music, daily interaction with coaches, and so on. Although some of these can be obtained by having the student travel during the day, only a limited number of parents have the means to achieve this, which restricts the availability of these resources to a privileged few.

Second is research suggesting that the 7th grade transition is a particularly bad one for student achievement. Anecdotally, I watched both of my daughters, and their friends, struggle through the 7th grade transition. They were attempting to manage integration into a much larger, seemingly less friendly environment at the same time they were trying to get accustomed to adolescence. The research is not yet definitive, but a summary at the National Middle School Association suggests that a transition earlier than 7th grade is better. This transition might be at 6th grade (the classic "middle school" configuration), or even at 5th grade. I do know that parents and students are also generally pleased with a K-8 configuration, such as can be found at two of our charter schools.

I do know that moving the 9th grade to the high schools is not without its costs and risks (we heard particularly poignant testimony from two junior high choral directors about the impact this will have on their programs), as well as unanswered questions (what about open campuses? Will there be two new grades in high school the first year of the transition? Do all of the high schools transition at the same time? How painful will the boundary adjustments be?) I hope that the study group considers these issues wisely as it looks toward changes in how we educate our children.


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