Position Statement on Academic Achievement

The middle school concept embraces academic achievement as a priority responsibility. National Middle School Association’s major position paper,
This We Believe: Developmentally Responsive Middle Level Schools, identifies as one of five foundational characteristics, “High Expectations for All.” In the elaboration of this item the document says in part:

“Educators in developmentally responsive middle level schools hold and act upon high expectations for all students, and the students themselves have expectation for success. Such confidence promotes positive attitudes and behaviors and serves as motivation for students to achieve; low expectations lead to alienation, discouragement, and lack of effort…

Effecting high academic achievement for all students is not simply a matter of ‘raising abstract standards.’ It means empowering students to learn, to become intellectually engaged, and to behave in keeping with responsible citizenship. It calls for them to develop initiative and responsibility so that they can become all they are capable of becoming.”

A full understanding of youth in these years of rapid and changeable mood swings between 10 and 15 makes it clear that in order to gain the maximum academic achievement, schools must be sensitive to and responsive to the varied developmental issues that impact young adolescents. With young adolescents, academic achievement and developmental responsiveness are closely related, even interdependent.

During the middle school years, individuals undergo the most rapid and profound physical, social, and personal changes in the human life cycle. Just as they are coping with and adjusting to an erratically growing body, they must also form new social relationships with peers and adults. They face new academic demands that quite often do not coincide with their intellectual or mental development.

Therefore, while intellectual development is and must continue to be the basic responsibility of the middle school, the education and nurture of young adolescents has to be an integrated venture that provides a balance between academic rigor and humanness. The physical, social, emotional, and intellectual aspects of young adolescents
are inexorably woven together in the fabric of their lives. One’s readiness to achieve academically is heavily influenced by one’s personal security and self-esteem. Though sometimes derided as a trite saying, the reality is the whole child does come to school. It is the individual that learns, and the individual is a total organism. If a student faces difficulties in his or her personal and out-of-school life, that student is seriously handicapped in mastering the school’s lessons. Middle schools cannot just be schooling places; they are also growing places where much of the learning that occurs deals with social and personal aspects of life that are not part of the content of the formal curriculum.

One’s self-concept is the basis of reality for an individual, determining what one “sees,” experiences, and perceives. Children either think they can or they can’t; some say I’ll try and then soon make up their mind as to which of the first two choices fits. This outlook on what middle school students see about themselves is what allows them to try out for the school play, go out for sports, turn that paper back in to reach a higher standard of achievement, or do only the minimum expected, hang out with buddies after school, and never come in for extra help after class. In like manner, if a student is convinced that he or she cannot spell, new evidence to support that judgment seems always at hand and readily noted. It is important that middle school teachers provide sufficiently varied activities so that¬†all¬†student can achieve success by their own actions and come to see themselves as able learners.

To be most effective, then, the educational experiences provided for a particular group of students must match the nature of that group, be in concert with how they learn best, and assist them in dealing with the tasks that growing up presents at that age level. For example, a kindergarten program recognizes the physical and mental limitations of five-year-olds and therefore doesn’t plan formal instruction for which they are not ready. In the same manner, a middle school program recognizes the great diversity of maturation that characterizes this age level and neither plans one lesson for all nor expects uniform results. Differentiated instruction becomes a necessity in order for all students to improve their academic performances. Likewise, a middle school program that is developmentally responsive will employ cooperative learning procedures, for such approaches are not only research-proven ways of increasing students’ achievement, but, at the same time, they meet a clear social need of students.

The middle school is the major stage on which young people, while learning the content of the curriculum, also try out new, more adult-like roles and learn to adjust to diverse peers, the opposite sex, and adults in different roles as well as become increasingly responsible for their own behavior. Young adolescents are in the process of firming up attitudes and values that will, in the long run, determine their success in high school and beyond, a reality that cannot and should not be ignored. Middle level educational programs, therefore, seek to fulfill their broad and critically important responsibilities by integrating into school classes and activities knowledge acquisition, mastery of basic skills, and personal development. Their success in so doing will have a major impact not only on the individuals concerned but on the nation itself.