*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on EurekAlert.
A new study has discovered that U.S. students achieve better results in reading and mathematics tests when they stay in elementary school for grades six (age 11-12) and seven (age 12-13), rather than transfer to middle school. In contrast, students in grade eight (age 13-14) achieve better results in middle school than high school.
“The current study adds to the growing body of research that experiencing a school transition during early adolescence is associated with detrimental outcomes,” said lead researcher Marisa Malone from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Malone and her colleagues report their findings in School Effectiveness and School Improvement.
In the U.S., there are various ways that students can transfer between schools as they age, with the span of grades covered by different schools known as grade configuration. One of the most common configurations is to go to elementary school up to grade five, and then to middle school from grades six to eight, and then to high school from grade nine onwards. But several studies have found that academic motivation and achievement tend to fall in middle school, with sixth-grade students in middle schools more likely to exhibit lower academic competency, more disciplinary problems and poorer attendance than those who stay in elementary schools.
The study included 573 public schools in Virginia, which adopts various grade configurations. Most students transfer to middle school for grades six, seven and eight, but in some areas, students stay in elementary school until grade six or seven and then transfer straight to high school, missing out middle school.
All schools in Virginia conduct mandatory tests of reading and mathematics from grade three onwards. Malone and her colleagues recorded the pass rates for these tests in grades six, seven and eight for each school over three years, and then compared the pass rates between the different configurations. They found that the pass rates for these tests were significantly higher for sixth and seventh grade students at elementary schools when compared to middle schools, although the effect was more pronounced for sixth grade students than seventh grade. For eighth grade students, the pass rate was higher in middle schools than high schools.
Together, these results suggest that students struggle with the transfer between schools, especially in early adolescence, adversely affecting their academic achievement.