Grade Configuration in Schools Impacts Student Learning, a case for K-8 schools

Posted by Adam Moore on 6/12/2018 7:00:00 AM

Grade configuration of a school can have a huge impact on student success. A recent study out of Syracuse University and published in American Educational Research Journal - Social and Institutional Analysis is great news for K-8 school students and makes the case that K-8 schools are the best grade configurations for middle school students. K-8 teachers and administrators have always felt the “top-dog” theory but little research has quantified it like this recent study. In short, middle school students thrive in all areas when allowed to be the “top dog.”

“Washington, D.C., September 15, 2016—Findings from new research published today suggest that longer grade spans that allow middle grade students to serve as relative “top dogs”—students in the highest grades—improve academic achievement and enhance their learning environment, including fewer instances of bullying and fights.” http://www.aera.net/Newsroom/Recent-AERA-Research/Do-Top-Dogs-Rule-in-Middle-School-Evidence-on-Bullying-Safety-and-Belonging

There have been numerous articles written as a result of this 2016 study, some of the quotes and articles that I found most interesting are linked below:

“The researchers found that when students were not the "bottom dogs," they reported feeling safer, less bullying, less fighting and a greater sense of belonging.” https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/19/494232646/sixth-grade-is-tough-it-helps-to-be-top-dog

“I can say, I'm not surprised at all that 6-8 schools have higher rate of bullying," said David L. Hough, an education professor at Missouri State University, who has studied middle grade academics but was not involved in the new study. "When you have a lot of kids at close to the same age together, it's not as healthy an environment [as a broader age range]." https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/10/05/shorter-school-grade-spans-linked-to-bullying.html

“Their recommendation? Keep students in the same schools longer, so that children get to be “top dogs” over more classmates and don’t become “bottom dogs” until they are better equipped developmentally to handle being the youngest in a building.” https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2016/09/20/worried-about-little-children-attending-school-with-much-older-students-a-study-says-theyll-be-better-off/

“For example, the negative effects of being a bottom dog don't just come from being new to the school: The students who transferred into a K-8 school in sixth grade still had better experiences than students who started at a 6-8 school.”https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/19/494232646/sixth-grade-is-tough-it-helps-to-be-top-dog

“The longer grade spans — the K through eight schools — provide a better learning environment and as a result, students do better emotionally and academically.” https://www.wpr.org/middle-school-helping-or-harming-kids

“traditional elementary and middle school grade arrangements are the worst for student test scores.” https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2016/09/20/worried-about-little-children-attending-school-with-much-older-students-a-study-says-theyll-be-better-off/

As anyone who has worked with middle school students or has had personal children who have survived the middle school years can attest to: middle school years are difficult ones! With all of the changes, raging hormones, social pressures, and increased academic demands a middle schooler faces, when choosing a school, don’t forget to consider the grade configuration that best supports middle school student's growth and development.