Developing Leaders

Leadership Curriculum

The National Forum places a high priority on strengthening the capacity of current and future middle-grades leaders. To this end, it has developed a leadership development curriculum to assist those who wish to increase the pace of middle-grades reform. Read more . . .

About the Forum

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 studentscores, 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.

There was a research that was conducted in the year 2007 of June. A lot of support from National Forum Board was got and not only this but they also gave approval to the Research Committee so that they can perform a sequence of research projects. These projects were a section of the Research Agenda of The National Forum. Learn the facts here now about trading.

Over the past 13 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.

With initial funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Forum has implemented several key initiatives. These initiatives include the following which improve school and classroom practice:

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 selected states to receive training in order to recognize their own model schools. Participating states include AR, CA, CO, GA, FL, IL, IN, KY, MI, NC, NJ, NY, OH, OR, PA, SC, TX, UT, VA. More . . .

Comprehensive School Reform: The Forum has CSR model developers counted among its membership to discuss common issues and work together to address them. Through this alliance, new products for enhancing mathematics for ELL, special education and rural education are being developed. More . . .
The Forum works to develop the next 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. Many states now participating in STW were part of the Southern Forum.

The Forum is committed to informing and engaging the public. It articulates and broadly disseminates policy statements on critical education issues such as student assignment patterns, high-stakes testing, teacher preparation and licensure and grade configuration. 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 united forces with many of its partners to advocate for federal awareness and support for the middle grades. The Success in the Middle Bill in the House (#3406) and Senate (#2227) were the first-ever middle grades legislation introduced. 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.

List of Members

Drew Allbritton
National Middle School Association
Columbus, OH

Linda Allen
South Carolina Middle School Assoc.
Myrtle Beach, SC

Nancy Ames *
CORE Consulting Services
Westborough, MA

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Lena Anderson
Florida Department of Edcuation
Tallahasse, FL

Gayle Andrews *
The University of Georgia
Athens, GA

Vincent Anfara, Jr.
American Educational Research Assoc.
Knoxville, TN

Patricia Benson
Michigan Schools in the Middle
Mount Pleasant, MI

Fredrick Brown
Learning Forward
Dallas, TX

Rudy Carega
The NEA Foundation
Washington, DC

Marybeth Casey
New York State Education Department
New York, NY

Alex Chough
ACT, Inc.
Iowa City, IA

Judith Conk
Int’l Studies Schools Network-The Asia Society
Nanuet, NY

Suzanne Dalton
Confederation of Oregon Schools Administrators
Salem, OR

Cecelia Daniels
Success for All Foundation
Baltimore, MD

Shelley Davis *
California GEAR UP
Oakland, CA

Susie DeHart
Lilly Endowment Inc.
Indianapolis, IN

Joan Devlin
American Federation of Teachers
Washington, DC

Christin Driscoll
Citzen Schools
Arlington, VA

Sandy Dutemple *
Virginia Schools to Watch
Manassas, VA

Jane Evans
Oregon Schools to Watch
Albany, OR

Michelle Feist
Academy for Educational Development
New York, NY

Nancy Fenton
Michigan Coalition of Essential Schools
Jackson, MI

Nancy Flowers
CPRD, University of Illinois
Champaign, IL

Cecil Floyd
Texas Middle School Association
Austin, TX

Dan French
Turning Points Center for Collaborative Ed.
Boston, MA

Lori Gardner
Utah Schools to Watch
Park City, UT

Peggy Gaskill
Peggy Gaskill & Associates
Livonia, MI

Gina Grant
Chicago Public Schools
Chicago, IL

Karen Hamilton
Kentucy Schools to Watch
Richmond, KY

John Harrison *
North Carolina Middle School Association
Pinehurst, NC

Gail Hilliard-Nelson
New Jersey Consortium for Middle Grades
Union, NJ

Steve Hoelscher
Michigan Middle Start
Battle Creek, MI

Sabrina Hope King
New York City Department of Education
New York City, NY

Linda Hopping *
Georgia Lighthouse Schools to Watch
Sandy Springs, GA

David Hough
Missouri State University
Springfield, MO

Irvin Howard *
California League of Middle Schools
Redlands, CA

Christine Huley
Utah Schools to Watch
Salt Lake City, UT

Deborah Kasak *
National Forum to Accelerate
Middle-Grades Reform
Savoy, IL

Patti Kinney
Nat’l Assoc. of Secondary School Principals
Reston, VA

Diane Lauer
Colorado Assoc. of Middle Level Educators
Loveland, CO

Douglas Mac Iver
Center for the Social Organizations of Schools
Baltimore, MD

Cynthia Mata-Aguilar
Education Development Center
Newton, MA

Molly McCloskey
Assoc. for Supervision & Curriculum Dev.
Alexandria, VA

David McNair
New Jersey Department of Education
Trenton, NJ

Kelly McNeal
Dept of Secondary and Middle School Ed
Wayne, NJ

Paul Meck
Pennsylvania Middle School Assoc.
Mechanicsburg, PA

Steve Mertens *
Illinois State University
Normal, IL

Hayes Mizell
National Staff Development Council
Columbia, SC

Patrick Montesano *
Academy for Educational Development
New York, NY

Barbara Moore *
Southern Regional Education Board
Atlanta, GA

Peter Murphy *
California League of Middle Schools
Long Beach, CA

John Nori *
Nat’l Assoc. of Secondary School Principals
Reston, VA

David Payton
New York State Middle School Assoc.
Pleasantville, NY

Phyllis Pendarvis *
Middle Level Teacher Education Initiative
Columbia, SC

Lisette Parteleon
Alliance for Excellent Education
Washington, DC

Patricia Renner *
The College Board
Washington, DC

Carol Riley
Nat’l Assoc. of Elementary School Principals
Alexandria, VA

Ellen Ringer *
California Department of Education
Sacramento, CA

Fran Salyers
Ctr. for Middle School Academic Achievement
Lancaster, KY

Deb Schrock
Assoc. of Illinois Middle-Level Schools
Champaign, IL

Joseph Shannon
Intrn’l Center for Leadership in Education
Rexford, NY

Dan Stacy
Ohio Department of Education
Columbus, OH

Sue Swaim
National Middle School Assoc.
Aurora, ME

Ron Williamson
Eastern Michigan University
Saline, MI

Stephanie Wood-Garnett
Center for Comp. School Reform and Imprvmt.
Washington, DC

Shirley Wright
Indiana Middle Level Education Association
Indianapolis, IN

* Indicates Board Member

Vision Statement

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.

There are many characteristics that you need to take into consideration when you want to make a school a high-performing kind such as, effective methods that will help in improving the school, expanding the idea of productive leadership, increased trust among the students and the people within the organization, monitoring the school activities, excellent instruction quality, improving the practices of giving grades. Learn even more here.

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.

News and Events

May 2009

National Forum Meeting
The National Forum membership held a teleconference meeting on May 20, 2009. The meeting agenda overview is now available.


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Report from IES
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has published a report titled “Parent Involvement Strategies in Urban Middle and High Schools in the Northeast and Islands Region,” which describes the varied policies, practices, and programs implemented by nine urban school districts across the Northeast to engage parents in their adolescent children’s education. Former National Forum staff member, Amy Aparicio Clark, is a co-author of this report and co-led the piloting of a protocol for documenting how schools and district involve parents as their children move from elementary to middle school and then to high school.

The project sample included schools and districts that serve students from low-income households, racial and ethnic minority students, and students with limited English proficiency–all subgroups with a higher risk of school failure. The researchers explored the effectiveness of the practices and programs but found little evidence to determine whether they succeed at increasing parent involvement. The report calls for more fully articulated parent involvement programs, systematic data collection, and rigorous study designs to provide evidence of what works to engage parents of adolescents in their children’s education. An archive of a Webinar highlighting findings from the report is available at

HOPE Foundation News
Effective Leadership: National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform Is Partnering with the HOPE Foundation
by Deborah Kasak
The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform is delighted to establish a relationship with The HOPE Foundation, and over the upcoming months we will collaborate to spread information about what is working in middle grades schools (grades 5-8) across this country. The Forum’s signature program is Schools to Watch, now in 18 states across this country with more than 200 schools identified and serving as models. Read more . . .

Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn Schools: A Program for Middle-Grades Schools on a Successful Trajectory of Improvement By Paul A. Meck
The first day of February 2008 was important for the middle level schools that were visited by the Pennsylvania Schools to Watch State Team. Along with five other schools, Meadville Area Middle School was anticipating notification on the decision of the State Team—would they be recognized as a Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn School? The answer was that they were not being recognized. Although disappointed in the decision, the middle school principal, Rebecca James, immediately took the first steps in making programmatic changes. The work of Rebecca and her leadership team was based on the report of the visitation team. One year later the response from the Pennsylvania Schools to Watch Team was different: Meadville Area Middle School was being designated as a School to Watch. Read more . . .

New report from the Southern Region Education Board
Nationwide, students in the middle grades and high school are failing to develop the reading and writing skills they need in order to meet higher academic standards later in their educational careers. Read the SREB report.

Schools to Watch Selected for 2009
Seventy-nine exemplary middle-grades schools have been named “Schools to Watch” as part of an eighteen state recognition and school improvement program developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. Having established partnerships with education leaders in these states, the Forum today announced the names of schools in each state that meet its strict criteria. Read the Press Release.

We invite you to join the journey to excellence!
In May, current Ohio Schools to Watch (OSTW) are opening their school doors to invite Ohio middle-level educators and communities to learn and share practices that impact school improvement. Ohio Schools to Watch Reaching for the Stars seeks to recognize diverse, high-performing, growth-oriented middle-level schools to demonstrate what all middle-level schools are capable of achieving. For OSTW information, visit our homepage at and use keyword search: OSTW. Schools are encouraged to complete the self-study tool. Questions? Call 1-877-644-6338

April 2009

Coming to the Schools to Watch Conference?
Plan to stay over June 29 and 30 to attend “Improving Instruction: Building a Culture for Differentiation” with internationally known consultant Rick Wormeli. Rick will be keynoting the STW Conference and this workshop will be an opportunity to spend two-days with him to learn how you can better incorporate differentiation practices into the learning culture of your school. This workshop is sponsored by NASSPand will be held in Reston,VA, only a few miles from Dulles Airport. For more information, go to or contact Becky Wise at

March 2009

Education Fact Sheet
President Obama sees the importance of increasing the graduation rate by focusing attention on the middle grades. Read more . . .

February 2009

National Forum Winter Meeting
The winter meeting of the National Forum board and membership took place February 11-12 through teleconference. Information is now available for the meeting overview and the Chicago Public Schools Project. information

Indicators of Middle School Implementation: How Do Kentucky’s Schools to Watch Measure Up?
This research article on Kentucky’s Schools to Watch (STW) and how they are measuring up, written by Chris Cook,Shawn Faulkner, and Lenore Kinne from Northern Kentucky University, has been published in Research in Middle Level Education Online. In the article the authors report and analyze the findings of their research that looked at the perceived level of implementation of the middle level concepts in both schools designated as a Kentucky STW and non-designated ones. In the study the authors also compared the academic performance of the two groups. The research does show a slight difference in both the level of perceived implementation of middle school concepts and student achievement between schools designated a STW and the non-designated schools. The schools designated as a STW had a greater level of implementation and student achievement was higher. In their concluding remarks the authors make several significant recommendations. Read the complete article.

2009 Schools to Watch® Conference
The Conference Brochure is now available for the 2009 Schools to Watch Conference, June 25-27 in Washington, DC. Read about the pre-conference sessions, schedule of events and keynote speaker, Rick Wormeli. Additional conference information can be found on the STW website.

What’s New with the Forum . . .
The National Forum’s executive director was among the 14 educational leaders invited to provide recommendations to the new administration. The HOPE Foundation sponsored a two-day summit to discuss and identify the most important education policies facing President Obama and Members of Congress. Read the press release here.

January 2009

Indiana Selected for 2009 Middle-Grades Reform Program
Pinehurst, NC – In its continuing effort to replicate the programs and practices of outstanding middle grades, the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform has selected Indiana to implement its acclaimed Schools to Watch® program.

Indiana was chosen after a competitive selection process in which the state team demonstrated the capacity, commitment, and vision to partner with the Forum to establish the program. Indiana will now work with the Forum to select “Schools to Watch” at the middle level. Read the rest of the press release here.


Find out about our new
leadership curriculum for middle-grades reform
The National Forum Resource Directory is now available.

The National Forum also has tools and resources available for members and others who are giving presentations on the Forum’s work. We have developed an Information Packet and a Speaker’s Kit that can be adapted for your own use.

Also, check out our links to other middle-grades related sites.


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National Forum Policy Statement

The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform recommends that national, state, and local policymakers provide resources and support to create small schools at the middle-grades level. In those cases where small schools are not feasible, the National Forum recommends that district and school leaders break down large middle-grades schools into smaller schools or small learning communities that create a personalized environment for teaching and learning. “Smallness,” whether small learning communities or small schools, is a necessary but not sufficient organizational structure that enhances teaching and learning at the middle level.


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Why Small Learning Communities and Small Schools?
A majority of the 14 million young adolescents (grades 5–8) enrolled in U.S. public schools continue to fare poorly on national and statewide performance assessments. Many eventually tune out or drop out of school.
One reason for this low level of achievement is that too many middle-grades students attend large, impersonal schools where substantial numbers of students are not purposefully engaged in learning, lack meaningful relationships with adults, and are increasingly alienated from school. Creating small schools and small learning communities represents a giant step toward personalizing middle-grades education and establishing the right conditions for enhanced teaching and learning.
Although currently embraced by high school reformers, small learning communities were first identified by middle-grades leaders nearly 30 years ago as conducive to young adolescents’ learning. While “smallness” is not an end in itself, it does help create conditions for student success by fostering a shared vision, shared leadership, a professional collaborative culture, and structured time for teachers to talk about instructional practice, as well as time to visit each others’ classrooms (Louis & Kruse, 1995). Smallness also allows educators to design and implement individual learning plans that meet the full spectrum of student needs, smaller student/teacher ratios, and more opportunities for students to engage actively in both courses and extracurricular activities. For these and other reasons, an extensive body of research suggests that small schools and small learning communities have the following significant advantages:
• Increased student performance, along with a reduction in the achievement gap and dropout rate
• A more positive school climate, including safer schools, more active student engagement, fewer disciplinary infractions, and less truancy
• A more personalized learning environment in which students have the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with both adults and peers
• More opportunities for teachers to gather together in professional learning communities that enhance teaching and learning
• Greater parent involvement and satisfaction
• Cost-efficiency
Ultimately, creating successful small learning communities and small schools at the middle level increases the chances for students to be successful in high school and beyond.

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 ( 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.