A large body of research suggests that students who go to middle school or junior high do worse academically, socially and emotionally, compared to the young teenagers who get to be the oldest students at schools with grades K-8.
A new paper in the Journal of Early Adolescence reinforces this message. The study found that starting a new school in either sixth or seventh grade hurts students’ perceptions of their own reading ability and motivation to work hard in English language arts.
It tracks nearly 6,000 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The authors compared the performance of students who attended a K-8 school to those who left for a middle school in sixth grade or a junior high in seventh grade. They focused on outcomes by eighth grade to rule out the negative impact that may have come merely from making the transition to a new school itself.
The negative effects were exaggerated for students from higher-income households. That surprised Elise Cappella, a lead author on the study and associate professor of applied psychology at New York University. Although children from lower-income households did worse in school overall, switching to middle school didn’t affect them as severely as the most privileged kids.
Most students this age attend a middle or junior high school. So, is this evidence we need to do away with them?