ACT has just released a report, "The Forgotten Middle: Ensuring That All Students Are on Target for College and Career Readiness before High School." The report says that fewer than 20% of eighth graders are on target to do college-level work by the time they graduate high school. Further, the "level of academic achievement students attain by eighth grade has a larger impact on their college and career readiness by the time they graduate from high school than anything that happens academically in high school."
In conducting the study, researchers found that three behaviors significantly predicted the student’s future academic performance: “academic discipline, orderly conduct, and having positive relationships with school personnel.”
Academic discipline can be found in many characteristics and behaviors, including the following:
· The ability to complete homework assignments on time.
· The perseverance to work through multiple-step directions and problem solving exercises.
· The self-control to focus on academics rather than pleasurable activities.
The dictionary defines “discipline” with the phrase “orderly conduct.” By their middle school years, students should be able to independently complete assignments and manage projects. “The Forgotten Middle” study indicates these college and career readiness characteristics should be a primary focus in middle school in order to achieve greater gains in high school. A student learning organizational skills in middle school will find high school and college projects easier to manage.
“Having positive relationships with school personnel” could take on many nuances such as every student knowing a caring adult in the school, or a small school culture where no student’s accomplishments or needs are neglected. Through these relationships, school has meaning for students. Teacher’s model high expectations for students through their own personal high expectations and students begin to appreciate the value of advanced learning.
The ACT report has several recommendations for improving college and career readiness. The first is to “focus on K-8 standards on the knowledge and skills that are essential for college and career readiness, and make these nonnegotiable for all students.” This recommendation can be accomplished with a focus on foundational skills in the key subjects. Having a strong foundation allows students to succeed in high school and take increasingly difficult courses.
The report also recommends monitoring student progress and intervening with students who are not on track, beginning in the late elementary school years. In addition to monitoring progress on the foundational skills and knowledge of the core subject areas, the process should include monitoring progress on the academic discipline and orderly conduct skills identified as influencing college and career readiness. These behaviors, if positively developed during the formative years, can become laudable employee traits in the future.
Ultimately, the report is a reminder that the middle school years are just as important for college and career preparation as the high school years; in fact, probably more so.