Educator, test scores don’t support middle schools

A number of sources, including an ACT test score breakdown, a former elementary school principal and current consultant, as well as a number of studies from several prominent education specialists, all say the best option available for a new Lebanon Middle School is not to create one. Duri...
Dec 8, 2012
 Photo: Jared Felkins • Lebanon Democrat

Southside Elementary School seventh-grader Dylan Allison talks to the Wilson County Board of Education on Saturday during a work session at the old Lebanon High School. Also pictured is his mother, Janelle Allison.
 Photo: Submitted to The Democrat

Danny Hill

A number of sources, including an ACT test score breakdown, a former elementary school principal and current consultant, as well as a number of studies from several prominent education specialists, all say the best option available for a new Lebanon Middle School is not to create one.

During a Wilson County Board of Education work session Saturday at the old Lebanon High School, Director of Schools Mike Davis asked administrators to create a report comparing ACT scores from seniors at Wilson County schools who came from Carroll Oakland, Southside and Tuckers Crossroads elementary schools with those who came from other schools.

These other students are products of sixth- through eighth-grade middle schools from either Wilson County or Lebanon. The three elementary schools are kindergarten- through eighth-grade schools.

During Saturday’s meeting, architect Jason Moore offered three proposals for the future of middle school students who reside or will live in areas surrounding the Lebanon city limits. Among the proposals were alternate plans within each.

The plans include using the old Lebanon High School building to house a new Lebanon Middle School; making additions to Carroll Oakland, Southside and Tuckers Crossroads elementary schools; and building a new Lebanon Middle School building near the new Lebanon High School campus. Included within the course of action the board ultimately takes would be whether it keeps the three schools in question kindergarten through eighth-grade in format or moves to a middle school concept, such as what’s in place at Mt. Juliet and Wilson Central schools.

It appears the board is leaning toward a plan that would take 634 students currently in sixth- through eighth-grades at the three elementary schools and put them together in a middle school setting.

Davis indicated Saturday a middle school concept would better prepare students for high school and beyond. He said Explorer tests taken in eighth-grade and Plan tests during students’ sophomore year are precursors to the ACT tests taken during junior year. He said students will be denied college if they don’t make above a benchmark ACT score, beginning in 2014.

On Monday during the board’s regular meeting, Davis presented results of the ACT report. Seniors from two of the three elementary schools scored higher on average than their middle school counterparts.

Of the 348 seniors at Lebanon High School who took the ACT, 82 former elementary school students scored an average 18.93 compared to 266 former middle schoolers with a 19.02 average.

But at Watertown High School, 13 former elementary school students had an average 19.69 ACT score compared with 75 former middle school students with an 18.37 average.

At Wilson Central High School, 399 students took the ACT with former elementary schoolers getting a 20.55 average compared to a 19.03 average from former middle school students.

Forty-eight former Carroll Oakland students, now seniors, had an average 19.43 ACT score, according to the report. Nearly 130 former Southside students scored an average 20.36 ACT score, and 41 former Tuckers Crossroads students scored an average 18.95.

Former Southside Elementary School principal Danny Hill, who now works as a consultant with Power of ICU – a group that works with schools to revive student engagement – said a middle school concept is not the right thing to do.

“The middle school concept is basically an old concept,” Hill said. “We are looking within our system and no where else and saying we have some middle schools, they should all be middle schools.”

Hill, who spent 20 years as Southside’s principal and 33 years as an educator, said it’s been perceived Tuckers Crossroads parents don’t like the proposed middle school plan just because they are fond of the school.

“But they’re right,” Hill said. “The culture factor in students’ learning is huge. We need to take a closer look at this.

“The middle school concept is a bomb. It blew up.”

Hill referenced an article from the School Archive Project on middle schools versus K-8 schools. In it, the article refers to a July 2011 Harvard University study that documented “the damage being done in middle schools.”

“Taken as a whole, these results suggest that structural school transitions lower student achievement but that middle schools in particular have adverse consequences for American students,” the report said.

The Harvard study showed that in virtually all subjects the scores on standardized tests were lower in middle schools thank in K-8 elementary schools.

The article goes on to reference then-Colorado Education Commissioner William Moloney, who said, “K-8s are the place where everybody knows your name.”

And Hill agreed. He said as he visits school systems across the U.S., he’s seeing more middle schools closing and returning to a K-8 concept. He said middle schools tend to be too large and overwhelming for sixth- through eighth-grade students and offer more of a dramatic change in setting than K-8 elementary schools offer.

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