A comparison of K–8 schools, junior high schools, and middle schools with respect to student academic achievement and attendance in North Carolina
Grade span configuration continues to be a controversial topic in American education as it has been for many decades. Before the turn of the 20 th century, the K-8 grade organization was widely used throughout America. By the 1920s, discontent with the 8-4 grade plan led to a decline in the number of K-8 schools nationwide and to the development of the junior high school. Since the 1960s, the debate over grade organization for early adolescent students has intensified. Today, the middle school grade configuration and the middle school movement itself are facing scrutiny. As a result, many school districts throughout America, particularly those in urban areas, are reverting back to the traditional K-8 configuration.
The purpose of this study was to examine the issue of grade span configuration in the middle grades with respect to student academic achievement and attendance records in North Carolina's K-8 schools, junior high schools, and middle schools. The data were North Carolina End-of-Grade achievement test scores in reading and mathematics and attendance records obtained from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Data from all public schools in North Carolina that enrolled middle grade aged students were analyzed.
The dependent variables in the study were academic achievement and attendance. The major independent variable in the study was grade span configuration. Extraneous variables controlled in the study were socioeconomic status, school size, and previous school year academic achievement.
Results indicated significant differences in student achievement and attendance favoring K-8 students when compared to middle/junior high school students. In addition to the test score and attendance data, fourteen interviews were conducted. Those interviewed were two principals and two teachers from K-8 schools, junior high schools, and middle schools, as well as two teachers who had experience in both K-8 schools and middle schools. The interview data provided insight into the influence of grade span on achievement and attendance and the impact of school transitions on adolescents.
Ten themes emerged from the interview data. These ten themes seemed to be summarized into two primary themes of personal competence and personal support. Using these as a basis for understanding the achievement and attendance superiority suggests that if a student's level of personal competence is high enough, then grade span organization and the accompanying transition do not matter. However, if a student is lacking in some area of personal competence, then the level of personal support afforded the student becomes critical for the student's school success. The K-8 organizational format was suggested as offering this greater level of personal support. With the greater personal support, deficiencies and problems were not perceived as becoming as great an academic obstacle.
0524: Elementary education
0533: Secondary education