Schools to watch

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About the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform

Its Mission:

The mission of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform is to unite key stakeholders to speak with a common voice to leverage research, policy, leadership, and replicable practices to drive middle grades reform.

Its Vision:

In order to prepare students to be lifelong learners ready for college, career, and citizenship, the National Forum seeks to make every middle-grades school academically excellent, responsive to the developmental needs and interests of young adolescents, and socially equitable.

Schools to Watch (STW) Criteria

Using its vision as a starting point, the National Forum developed a set of rigorous Schools to Watch (STW) criteria to identify those schools that exemplify the characteristics of high performing schools with middle-level grades. These schools would be:


  • Academically Excellent - they challenge all students to use their minds well.
  • Developmentally responsive - they are sensitive to the unique developmental challenges of early adolescence.
  • Socially equitable - they are democratic and fair, providing every student with high-quality teachers, resources, and supports.
  • Organized with established norms, structures, and institutional arrangements to support and sustain continuous improvement and growth.


To achieve this level of performance, high-performing schools establish norms, structures, and organizational arrangements to support and sustain their trajectory toward excellence. They have a sense of purpose that drives every facet of practice and decision-making.


Recognized schools will be featured in state and national publications, and will be visited by educators from around the country looking to see where “things are being done right.” Schools will also participate in professional development and will serve as a model for other schools using the Schools to Watch Criteria to guide school improvement and reform. Schools visited by the selection committee but not selected for Schools to Watch recognition will be offered a half-day follow-up visit to discuss particular strengths and challenges of the school and ways in which NCMLE and DPI can assist the school in its efforts to meet the criteria.

Contact Schools to watch

Questions about Schools to Watch? Contact the Schools to Watch Co-Directors:

Dr. Chris Cook chris.cook@ncmle.org and Jennifer Hall jennifer.hall@ncmle.org