ATLANTA — States across the South need to take steps now to improve student achievement in the middle grades — considered by many experts to be a critical weak point in public education — or else risk creating a generation of high school students ill-prepared for the 21st century and its changing work force demands, a major new report from the SREB Middle Grades Commission asserts.
Although SREB states have made good progress in early grades achievement in recent years, "when students reach the middle grades, they start to lose momentum — especially in reading and also in math — and often reach the ninth grade unprepared for high school," SREB President Dave Spence said. "Too many give up and drop out."
A New Mission for the Middle Grades: Preparing Students for a Changing World points out that 25 out of 100 rising ninth-graders in the SREB region do not graduate from high school on time. The chance that a ninth-grader is on the way to college by age 19 is less than 50-50. Yet recent research shows the fastest-growing jobs in the years ahead will be those requiring a college degree or technical certificate.
"The middle grades are the make-or-break point of our K-12 public school system. If states are serious about raising graduation rates and preparing more students for postsecondary study, work has to begin now on the middle grades," Spence said.
The SREB Middle Grades Commission was created to craft specific recommendations for change. Chaired by Governor Beverly Perdue of North Carolina (then chair of the Southern Regional Education Board), the 35-member Commission met in 2010 and 2011 and included the heads of state Departments of Education in many of SREB’s 16 member states, state legislators, educators and other state policy-makers.
"What we do to engage today’s sixth-grade students will have serious consequences for the strength of the economy in SREB states and the nation for years to come," noted Governor Perdue.
The report challenges SREB states to jumpstart the stall in middle grades achievement by creating a richer, more active and relevant learning experience that helps middle-graders relate school to their future goals. Among its recommendations, it calls for states to:
- focus the middle grades curriculum on literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses.
- identify the middle grades students likely to drop out and intervene with increased learning time and accelerated instruction.
- require middle-graders to complete individual academic and career plans.
"This isn’t just another policy report. The Commission lays out a framework and six specific goals to guide states. It’s a solid roadmap for educators and policy-makers that can — and should — be used to raise middle grades student achievement across the region," SREB Senior Vice President Gene Bottoms said.
To learn more about the SREB region’s or your state’s progress in improving middle grades achievement, contact SREB Communications.
SREB, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, advises state education leaders on ways to improve education. SREB was created in 1948 by Southern governors and legislatures to help leaders in education and government work cooperatively to advance education and improve the social and economic life of the region. SREB has 16 member states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Each is represented by its governor and four gubernatorial appointees.