States across the South need to take steps now to improve student achievement in the middle grades — considered by many experts to be a critical weak point in public education — or else risk creating a generation of high school students ill-prepared for the 21st century and its changing work force demands, a major new report from the SREB Middle Grades Commission asserts.
Although SREB states have made good progress in early grades achievement in recent years, "when students reach the middle grades, they start to lose momentum — especially in reading and also in math — and often reach the ninth grade unprepared for high school," SREB President Dave Spence said. "Too many give up and drop out."
A New Mission for the Middle Grades: Preparing Students for a Changing World points out that 25 out of 100 rising ninth-graders in the SREB region do not graduate from high school on time. The chance that a ninth-grader is on the way to college by age 19 is less than 50-50. Yet recent research shows the fastest-growing jobs in the years ahead will be those requiring a college degree or technical certificate.
"The middle grades are the make-or-break point of our K-12 public school system. If states are serious about raising graduation rates and preparing more students for postsecondary study, work has to begin now on the middle grades," Spence said.
The SREB Middle Grades Commission was created to craft specific recommendations for change. Chaired by Governor Beverly Perdue of North Carolina (then chair of the Southern Regional Education Board), the 35-member Commission met in 2010 and 2011 and included the heads of state Departments of Education in many of SREB’s 16 member states, state legislators, educators and other state policy-makers.
The report challenges SREB states to jumpstart the stall in middle grades achievement by creating a richer, more active and relevant learning experience that helps middle-graders relate school to their future goals. Among its recommendations, it calls for states to:
- focus the middle grades curriculum on literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses.
- identify the middle grades students likely to drop out and intervene with increased learning time and accelerated instruction.
- require middle-graders to complete individual academic and career plans.