Policy Statements

The Forum seeks to engage key stakeholders in the critical issues of middle-grades reform. We realize that for changes to occur at the school and classroom level, policy makers must provide support to middle-grades schools. To accelerate these changes, the Forum develops and disseminates policy statements on issues that have a direct impact on middle-grades education.


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Small Schools and Small Learning Communities
Though not sufficient in itself, “smallness” creates a personalized learning environment that enhances teaching and learning at the middle level. The National Forum calls for federal, state, and local policymakers to provide resources and support to create small schools at the middle-grades level. In those cases where small schools are not feasible, district and school leaders should break down large middle-grades schools into smaller schools or small learning communities where teams of teachers share small groups of students (sometimes called clusters or houses). Read the Forum’s policy statement (June 2004) on small schools and small learning communities or download a version in pdf.

High-Stakes Testing
With public demand and recent federal legislation calling for high standards and improved student performance, virtually every state in the nation has created and administered statewide tests that measure student progress over time. The requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 will result in increased use of these tests. After careful deliberation, the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform has endorsed the following policy statement. (July 2002). Read the Forum’s policy statement (July 2002) on high-stakes testing or download a version in PDF.

Teacher Preparation, Licensure, and Recruitment
The National Forum believes that specialized professional preparation and licensure are critical if we are going to improve middle-grades education across this country and help all students meet the high standards expected of them. Both research and experience tell us that nothing is more important in improving student learning and achievement than teacher quality. If we want our eighth graders to meet both national and international standards of performance, then we must ensure that their middle-grades teachers have the essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions to teach youngsters at this unique developmental stage. Read the Forum’s policy statement (April 2002) on teacher preparation, licensure, and recruitment or download a version in PDF.

Ability grouping
Schools across the country are struggling with how to group students for instruction. Ability grouping is a divisive issue among parents, teachers, and policymakers. Members of the National Forum have struggled with the many nuances of ability grouping and have come to consensus on a statement of policy. Read the Forum’s policy statement (February 2001) on ability grouping and student assignment patterns or download a version in PDF.

Executive Director’s Corner Archive:

No Child Left Behind is Leaving Its Mark
The landmark “No Child Left Behind Act” is already having a major impact on education in the United States. I applaud its fundamental goal, but like a pebble tossed into a pond, the NCLB Act is having a ripple effect across education. We need to look at the act in a broad context so that we will see how it is changing the surface of how we educate our children and how deeply those changes run.


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I believe it is important to dissect the Act and determine what aspects of the legislation assist or help advance the attainment of high performing middle-grades schools. Let’s examine the key elements of NCLB through the “lens” of the National Forum’s vision statement.

Academic Excellence
NCLB implications that assist in fostering academic excellence

The Act requires us to press for proficiency in content areas and sets specific targets. Here, the intent is clear: it says we need to think about what students should know and be able to do. Decisions about programs and practices need to be based in measurable evidence. The legislation acknowledges that we need highly qualified teachers and we need to implement activities, strategies and practices that get results.

National Forum’s academic excellence and NCLB

We must all be aware, however, that the Act’s focus on discrete, separate subjects will make more challenging the interrelatedness of the learning process at the middle grades. The act does not acknowledge or encourage students experiencing curriculum that is embedded in an integrated, meaningful context. Middle level teachers can make reaching high standards possible through subject linkages and integration. The content-specific dominance and test-based focus of NCLB can ultimately move the curriculum away from the integrative and “real world” dimensions thus narrowing intellectually, rigorous experiences for students. Frankly, we believe the reliance on potentially high-stakes testing is only part of the solution. Our position avows the importance of multiple forms of assessment in order to keep students’ options open.

Depending on how each state defines “highly qualified”, NCLB impacts the flexibility principals can have in establishing interdisciplinary teams. NCLB does not give attention to the importance of knowing how to teach the content to learners. Teachers for the middle level should have at least two board content teaching areas and be knowledgeable about teaching that content to young adolescents.

Social Equity
NCLB implications that assist in fostering social equity

The legislation insists on “every” student achieving and that schools use subsets of data to make certain that no child is overlooked. The Act judges a school on the extent to which it improves the performance of their subpopulations. NCLB places responsibility for examining the effects of current practices in the hands of the school.

As with academic excellence, the Act explicitly lays out the critical function of a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, including those servicing low-performing students. Access to funding both through the school and through community resources is available to bring about improvements and close the achievement gap.

NCLB and the National Forum’s vision statement have a high level of congruence around social equity.

National Forum’s social equity and the NCLB

Highly qualified teachers at the middle grades need content expertise as well as the skills, strategies, and understanding of how to best shape instruction to meet the learning and developmental needs of these learners.

Teachers have to be collaborative, life-long learners, and they have to confront and inspire mindsets that have consciously or unconsciously limited segments of the student population. Multiple assessment strategies and data-based decision making are hallmarks of the Forum’s vision.

The Forum sees the role of teachers and interdisciplinary team members as broader than that of mere content providers. High-functioning teams with heterogeneous populations of students collectively improve achievement through their integrative approach.

The Forum supports social equity through the general tenor of the building’s climate. Such schools look at data about attendance, behavior, suspensions, involvement, and participation. Also important: parental involvement, community participation, engaging instruction that is active and inquiry-based, and democratic participation.

Developmental Responsiveness
NCLB implications that assist in fostering developmental responsiveness

The Act directly addresses the increased role of parents as active partners in the learning process. Parents are to be informed about the school’s quality and its teachers’ competencies.

There is flexibility and there are options for fund consolidation in order to augment programs and implement innovative programs. Through partnerships, schools can capture more time for professional development and common planning time.

National Forum developmental responsiveness and NCLB

The NCLB does not address the effects that a responsive school can have on achievement. The Forum’s vision statement does set forth a much more expansive description of how high-performing schools respond to the developmental issues of young adolescents. Also, the Schools to Watch criteria (schoolstowatch.org) offers many indicators for areas including developmental responsiveness.

Clearly, NCLB has already begun to impact our schools. As leaders and practitioners, we will need to know both the legislation and the vision for making high performing schools a reality. The middle grades community has made remarkable progress in the past few decades in improving the learning conditions and outcomes of students. NCLB can enlighten the work without inhibiting the middle level improvement process.

Schools to Watch Selection Criteria

The members of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform believe that youth in the middle grades are capable of learning and achieving at high levels. forum members share a sense of urgency that high-performing middle-grades schools become the norm, not the exception.


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To that end, the Forum has identified a set of selection criteria to describe high-performing schools that serve students in the middle-grades. Learn more about each of them below.

Academic Excellence
Developmental Responsiveness
Social Equity
Organizational Structures and Processes

Academic Excellence

High-performing schools with middle grades are academically excellent. They challenge all students to use their minds well.

All students are expected to meet high academic standards. Teachers supply students with exemplars of high quality work that meets the performance standard. Students revise their work based on feedback until they meet or exceed the performance standard.

Curriculum, instruction, and assessment are aligned with high standards. They provide a coherent vision for what students should know and be able to do. The curriculum is rigorous and non-repetitive; it moves forward substantially as students progress through the middle grades.

The curriculum emphasizes deep understanding of important concepts, development of essential skills, and the ability to apply what one has learned to real-world problems. By making connections across the disciplines, the curriculum helps reinforce important concepts.

Instructional strategies include a variety of challenging and engaging activities that are clearly related to the concepts and skills being taught.

Teachers use a variety of methods to assess student performance (e.g., exhibitions, projects, performance tasks) and maintain a collection of student work. Students learn how to assess their own and others’ work against the performance standards.

The school provides students time to meet rigorous academic standards. Flexible scheduling enables students to engage in extended projects, hands-on experiences, and inquiry-based learning. Most class time is devoted to learning and applying knowledge or skills rather than classroom management and discipline.

Students have the supports they need to meet rigorous academic standards. They have multiple opportunities to succeed and extra help as needed.

The adults in the school have opportunities to plan, select, and engage in professional development aligned with nationally recognized standards. They have regular opportunities to work with their colleagues to deepen their knowledge and improve their practice. They collaborate in making decisions about rigorous curriculum and effective instructional methods. They discuss student work as a means of enhancing their own practice.
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Developmental Responsiveness

High-performing schools with middle grades are sensitive to the unique developmental challenges of early adolescence.

The school creates a personalized environment that supports each student’s intellectual, ethical, social, and physical development. The school groups adults and students in small learning communities characterized by stable, close, and mutually respectful relationships.

The school provides access to comprehensive services to foster healthy physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development.

Teachers use a wide variety of instructional strategies to foster curiosity, exploration, creativity, and the development of social skills.

The curriculum is both socially significant and relevant to the personal interests of young adolescents.

Teachers make connections across disciplines to help reinforce important concepts and address real-world problems.

The school provides multiple opportunities for students to explore a rich variety of topics and interests in order to develop their identity, discover and demonstrate their own competence, and plan for their future.

Students have opportunities for voice — posing questions, reflecting on experiences, developing rubrics, and participating in decisions.

The school develops alliances with families to enhance and support the well-being of their children. It involves families as partners in their children’s education, keeping them informed, involving them in their children’s learning, and assuring participation in decision-making.

The school provides students with opportunities to develop citizenship skills, uses the community as a classroom, and engages the community in providing resources and support.

The school provides age-appropriate co-curricular activities.
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Social Equity

High-performing schools with middle grades are socially equitable, democratic, and fair. They provide every student with high-quality teachers, resources, learning opportunities, and supports. They keep positive options open for all students.

Faculty and administrators expect high-quality work from all students and are committed to helping each student produce it. Evidence of this commitment includes tutoring, mentoring, special adaptations, and other supports.

Students may use many and varied approaches to achieve and demonstrate competence and mastery of standards.

The school continually adapts curriculum, instruction, assessment, and scheduling to meet its students’ diverse and changing needs.

All students have equal access to valued knowledge in all school classes and activities.

Students have on-going opportunities to learn about and appreciate their own and others’ cultures. The school values knowledge from the diverse cultures represented in the school and our nation.

Each child’s voice is heard, acknowledged, and respected.

The school welcomes and encourages the active participation of all its families.

The school’s reward system demonstrates that it values diversity, civility, service, and democratic citizenship.

The faculty is culturally and linguistically diverse.

The school’s suspension rate is low and in proportion to the student population.
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Organizational Structures and Processes

High-performing schools with middle grades are learning organizations that establish norms, structures, and organizational arrangements to support and sustain their trajectory toward excellence.

A shared vision of what a high-performing school is and does drives every facet of school change. Shared and sustained leadership propels the school forward and preserves its institutional memory and purpose.

Someone in the school has the responsibility and authority to hold the school-improvement enterprise together, including day-to-day know-how, coordination, strategic planning, and communication.

The school is a community of practice in which learning, experimentation, and reflection are the norm. Expectations of continuous improvement permeate the school. The school devotes resources to ensure that teachers have time and opportunity to reflect on their classroom practice and learn from one another. At school everyone’s job is to learn.

The school devotes resources to content-rich professional development, which is connected to reaching and sustaining the school vision. Professional development is intensive, of high quality, and ongoing.

The school is not an island unto itself. It draws upon others’ experience, research, and wisdom; it enters into relationships such as networks and community partnerships that benefit students’ and teachers’ development and learning.

The school holds itself accountable for its students’ success rather than blaming others for its shortcomings. The school collects, analyzes, and uses data as a basis for making decisions. The school grapples with school-generated evaluation data to identify areas for more extensive and intensive improvement. It delineates benchmarks, and insists upon evidence and results. The school intentionally and explicitly reconsiders its vision and practices when data call them into question.

Key people possess and cultivate the collective will to persevere and overcome barriers, believing it is their business to produce increased achievement and enhanced development for all students.

The school works with colleges and universities to recruit, prepare, and mentor novice and experienced teachers. It insists on having teachers who promote young adolescents’ intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and ethical growth. It recruits a faculty that is culturally and linguistically diverse.

The school includes families and community members in setting and supporting the school’s trajectory toward high performance. The school informs families and community members about its goals for students and students’ responsibility for meeting them. It engages all stakeholders in ongoing and reflective conversation, consensus building, and decision making about governance to promote school improvement.

Schools to Watch Background and Information

After a year of collaboration, the National Forum identified criteria to describe high-performing schools that serve students in the middle grades. Such schools are academically excellent, responsive to the developmental challenges of young adolescents, and socially equitable, with high expectations for all students. The Forum conducted a national search for four “Schools to Watch” that meet its criteria. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded each school a $15,000 grant to be used to share their experiences and practices with other middle schools around the country.


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The Forum received almost 40 applications from schools around the country. Among those that applied, we visited nine and selected four as “Schools to Watch”.

The four schools that were recognized as Schools to Watch are Barren County Middle School in rural Kentucky, Jefferson Middle School in Champaign, Illinois, Freeport Intermediate School in Freeport, Texas, and Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Chicago, Illinois.

Following their selection, the four schools were inundated with phone calls and visitors from the education community interested in using the selection criteria for their own staff training and school assessments. The National Forum developed a web site that features online tours of the schools, as well as detailed information about the criteria. In 2002, to further expand the reach and impact of the Schools to Watch initiative, the Forum selected California, Georgia, and North Carolina to pilot the implementation of the program at the state level.

The state program expands yearly. Currently 11 states participate. The request for application to become a “School to Watch State” is available each fall.

Comprehensive School Reform Models

AIM at Middle-Grades Results • Different Ways of Knowing
Making Schools Work • Middle Start
Success for All Middle School Program
Talent Development Middle School Model • Turning Points


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Background • Model Design • Research Findings
Research Findings
Closing the Gaps in the Middle Grades (PDF document) is the latest publication that includes data from both middle-grades initiatives at SREB.
Also read the research brief, Middle Grades to High School:Mending the Weak Link.

Comprehensive School Reform Models


Many National Forum members have developed or are in the process of designing comprehensive school reform models aimed at bringing about whole-school change. These programs are supported, in part, by different sponsors, including the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the US Department of Education, New American Schools, and several private foundations. What makes these programs distinctive is that they seek to bring about changes in all facets of the school, including organization and climate; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; professional development; leadership; and parent/community involvement.

Below are several comprehensive school reform models which are being used in middle-grades schools across the country. Their developers are all members of the National Forum. Where possible, we have included links to each model’s Web site.

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AIM at Middle-Grades Results
Different Ways of Knowing
Making Middle Grades Work
Making Schools Work
Middle Start
Success for All Middle School Program
Talent Development Middle School Model
Turning Points
For more information on comprehensive school reform and reform models, visit the National Clearinghouse on Comprehensive School Reform.

Comprehensive School Reform Models

AIM at Middle-Grades Results • Different Ways of Knowing
Making Middle Grades Work • Making Schools Work • Middle Start
Success for All Middle School Program • Turning Points


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Background • Model Design • Research Findings

The model was designed in 1995 by a team of researchers, educators, and experienced curriculum writers at Johns Hopkins University in collaboration with middle school leaders and educators in Philadelphia. The design team is led by Douglas Mac Iver and Robert Balfanz.

Schools Served

Currently there are 23 schools in seven states—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington. Seven new schools are anticipated in the next year.

Background History

The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform is an alliance of over 60 educators, researchers, national associations, and officers of professional organizations and foundations committed to promoting the academic performance and healthy development of young adolescents. The Forum developed in 1997 out of a sense of urgency that middle-grades school improvement had stalled, amid a flurry of descending test scores, increasing reports of school violence, and heated debates about the nature and purpose of middle-grades education. All agreed that nothing short of collective and concerted action could result in high-performing middle-grades schools and students.

Over the past six years, the Forum has flourished, successfully reframing the national discourse about middle-grades education. Major organizations, foundations, and others of influence have articulated and affirmed that schools do not have to choose between equity and excellence, or between a healthy school climate and a strong academic program. Rather, as articulated in the Forum’s vision statement, they must focus on all of these if they want students to achieve at significantly higher levels. By endorsing this common vision, Forum members have developed common goals and understandings, strengthened individual efforts to improve schools that serve middle-grades students, collaborated across institutional and other boundaries, and worked together to mobilize others in the larger middle-grades community.

To accomplish its goal of improved academic and developmental outcomes for all students in the middle grades, the Forum identifies and disseminates best practices, articulates and promotes effective policies, recognizes and develops enlightened leadership, and informs and engages the public.
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  • The Forum hopes to impact schools at the classroom level.Schools to Watch (STW) program: The Forum developed criteria for identifying high-performing middle-grades schools, selected four successful schools in a national search, and high-lighted their achievements. It also selects states to receive training in order to recognize their own model schools. Participating states include CA, CO, GA, IL, KY, NC, NY, OH,& VA.Comprehensive School Reform:The Forum convenes 7 CSR model developers counted among its membership to discuss common issues and work together to address them.
  • The Forum works to develop thenext generation of middle-grades leaders. In 1999 it brought together 60 leaders from 10 states to form the Southern Forum. The National Forum continues to work closely with this and other regional groups committed to accelerating school improvement. To extend its reach among emerging leaders, the Forum developed a leadership curriculum and runs training events based on it.• The Forum is committed toinforming and engaging the public. It articulates and broadly disseminates policy recommendations on critical education issues such as student assignment patterns, high-stakes testing, and teacher preparation and licensure. By educating policy makers, practitioners, parents and community members about the latest research, effective policy, and best practice, the Forum hopes to facilitate reform. The Forum also seeks to unite stakeholders in promoting education beyond high school for middle-grades students. Through the PALMS Project (Postsecondary Access for Latino Middle-Grades Students), the Forum and its partners will identify programs that are effectively reaching the parents of Latino middle-grades students with information about how to prepare their children for college.

Our Vision Statement

We, the members of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, believe that youth in the middle grades are capable of learning and achieving at high levels. We share a sense of urgency that high-performing schools with middle grades become the norm, not the exception.There are educator who are of middle level who are from about 17 different states and all these educators are from different states who have collaborated together to form a forum known as “The National Forum to Middle-Grades Reform.” The aim of this forum is to improve and transform the education that is of middle level so that it can provide best service to the students. And this website is good for youngsters as well Suggested Web page.

High-performing schools with middle grades are academically excellent. They challenge all students to use their minds well, providing them with the curriculum, instruction, assessment, support, and time they need to meet rigorous academic standards. They recognize that early adolescence is characterized by dramatic cognitive growth, which enables students to think in more abstract and complex ways. The curriculum and extra-curricular programs in such schools are challenging and engaging, tapping young adolescents’ boundless energy, interests, and curiosity. Students learn to understand important concepts, develop essential skills, and apply what they learn to real-world problems. Adults in these schools maintain a rich academic environment by working with colleagues in their schools and communities to deepen their own knowledge and improve their practice.

High-performing schools with middle grades are developmentally responsive. Such schools create small learning communities of adults and students in which stable, close, and mutually respectful relationships support all students’ intellectual, ethical, and social growth. They provide comprehensive services to foster healthy physical and emotional development. Students have opportunity for both independent inquiry and learning in cooperation with others. They have time to be reflective and numerous opportunities to make decisions about their learning. Developmentally responsive schools involve families as partners in the education of their children. They welcome families, keep them well informed, help them develop their expectations and skills to support learning, and assure their participation in decision-making. These schools are deeply rooted in their communities. Students have opportunities for active citizenship. They use the community as a classroom, and community members provide resources, connections, and active support.

High-performing schools with middle grades are socially equitable. They seek to keep their students’ future options open. They have high expectations for all their students and are committed to helping each child produce work of high quality. These schools make sure that all students are in academically rigorous classes staffed by experienced and expertly prepared teachers. These teachers acknowledge and honor their students’ histories and cultures. They work to educate every child well and to overcome systematic variation in resources and outcomes related to race, class, gender, and ability. They engage their communities in supporting all students’ learning and growth.

National Forum Policy Statement


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To read the Forum’s policy statement and access related resources, please visit http:www.mgforum.org/policy.asp.