Abstracts from AERA 2004 Paper Sessions

Making Middle Grades Work
April 13, 2004

Chair: Sandra L. Stacki, Hofstra University
Discussant: Richard P. Lipka,PittsburgStateUniversity

Comprehensive Middle School Reform: Early Findings from the Success for All Middle School Evaluation
Ceil Daniels, Success for all Foundation; Anne M. Chamberlain, Success for All Foundation; Nancy Madden, Success for All Foundation;Robert Slavin, Johns Hopkins University

This paper will present research results comparing reading outcomes of students in a comprehensive middle school reform, the Success for All Middle School, with students in matched control conditions. Data examining academic impact, as well as the implementation process of this new model, will be reported. Preliminary achievement data from state accountability measures show school-level reading gains made by Success for All Middle Schools to exceed gains made by control schools in six of seven pairs. These differences approach statistical significance (p<.06). Observation and interview data reveal unique challenges to implementing whole-school reform at the middle school level, as well as viable strategies for meeting those challenges, all aimed towards increasing student achievement. The Success for All Middle School design is one of few comprehensive, replicable models for middle schools serving many at-risk young adolescents. Consistent data indicating whether and how this model can be successfully replicated across a wide variety of circumstances will provide an important tool for educators concerned with the success of these children.

Improving Reading Proficiency in High-Poverty Middle Schools
Allen Ruby, Johns Hopkins University; Douglas J. Maciver, Johns Hopkins University; Vaughan Byrnes, Johns Hopkins University

High-poverty, high-minority middle schools are not overcoming the reading deficits of their students placing them at increased risk of dropping out. We examine the impact of an adolescent literacy program, Student Team Literature, on 2,794 students at 7 high-poverty middle schools in Philadelphia that were involved in the whole school reform Talent Development Middle School Model. Their change in reading proficiency level from 5th grade to 8th grade is compared against 9773 students at 23 similar schools in the District that did not use STL. Students using STL were 42% more likely to move up from the lowest reading proficiency level and 25% less likely to move down to it.

Explorations of Middle Schools

April 15, 2004


Predictors of Intrinsic Motivation Among Urban Middle School Students: The Mediating Role of Self-Worth Perceptions
L. Mickey Fenzel,Loyola College in Maryland

The present study examines three predictors of intrinsic motivation for school work and the mediating role that self-worth perceptions play in the process. Predictors include students’ perceptions of school-related strain, parental support, and their academic competence. Participants include 62 young adolescents (69% African American) attending urban parochial middle schools. Results provide support for the mediating role of self-worth in predicting students’ levels of intrinsic motivation, a finding that has particularly important implications for establishing effective learning environments for young urban adolescents of color. Results suggest that educators and parents form partnerships that help young adolescents succeed in school and help them navigate the host of stressors in the urban environment that mitigate against school success.

Promoting Culturally Responsive Teaching as Enacting an Ethic of Care in Middle Level Education
Constance Bauer,Rowan University

This study examines how school-wide change activities affect teachers’ practices when teaching culturally diverse suburban middle school students. Research focuses on how implementation of a teacher study group affects understandings regarding teaching African American females. Data include observations of white male teachers’ classes, interviews with teachers and students, field notes from study group meetings and teacher surveys. Data suggest that teachers whose attitudes and practices reflect and incorporate students’ cultural backgrounds and interests are most effective with the African American girls. Findings indicate that teachers who learn about students’ needs and interests demonstrate patience, provide opportunities for group work, and make learning relevant. The study has important implications for educational leaders striving to build a caring, culturally responsive school climate.

Career Readiness Typology and Typal Membership in Middle School
Patrick Akos, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Timothy R. Konold, University of Virginia; Spencer Niles, Penn State University

Choices made in middle school begin to shape a career identity and represent pathways to potential careers. Career indecision may be developmentally appropriate in middle school and school counselors hold primary responsibility to facilitate career development and help students make related choices. This study examined the career readiness of 629 8th grade students using the Career Factors Inventory. Data revealed elevated needs for information, specifically self-knoweldge, as compared to normative samples in high school and college. Additionally, a career readiness typology demonstrates the heterogeneity of career development needs of 8th grade students and reveals little variance on sociodemographic factors. Implications for school counselors and school personnel are also presented.

Effects of Curriculum Variation on Structure in Middle School Mathematics
Robert M. Capraro, Texas A&M University; Victor L. Willson, Texas A&M University; Mary Margaret Capraro, Texas A&M University; Linda D. Wilson, American Association for the Advancement of Science

This paper explores changes in students’ representations of number and algebra from pre test to posttest and examines differential changes due to instructional variation. Number (use, interpret and compare equivalent forms of fractions, decimals and percents) and algebra (equations summarizing time related change) were assessed for grades 6 through 8. The results reported here are from the first two years of a five-year longitudinal study being conducted in two states, involving 62 teachers, 8 school districts, 19 schools, and 4 textbook series. The findings illustrate that the two forms of each test are psychometrically equivalent. The number test more accurately replicates the co-variance matrix and provides one plausible fit for the construct. The algebra test is a marginal fit to the construct and provides insights when comparing the pre and posttest fit to the construct. While the posttest analysis of algebra indicates a plausible fit to the construct further investigation will provide added information about the interaction of the construct as measured by the test and it effects on the student performance on general algebra tasks and high stakes tests.

Multiliteracies in Action: Case Studies of Multiliteracies Classrooms
William R. Kist, Kent State University

This session will describe the efforts of an ongoing research study that is finding and describing “multiliteracies” classrooms across the U.S. and Canada. Student and teacher perceptions (as well as researcher perceptions) will be utilized to describe what an up-and-running “new literacy” classroom looks like overall, on a daily basis, and from a “local literacy” perspective. Six case studies have been completed. Thick descriptions of these “new literacy” classrooms have been developed and will be developed, including sample assignments and assessments used (with sample assignment sheets and rubrics.) Analysis of the data has also provided trends of “multiliteracies” teaching as well as significant local differences, which will be shared.

Learning from School Districts About Factors Related to Urban Middle School Teacher Effectiveness and Retention
Doris Williams-Smith, University of Houston

Research Question: Which factors lead to effective teaching in urban middle schools? Purpose: 1.To identify characteristics of effective urban middle school teachers. 2.To identify crucial elements of teacher preparation programs for preparing teachers to be effective in urban middle school settings. 3.To identify most effective recruitment strategies for urban middle schools. 4.To identify induction strategies that have proven to be most effective. 5.To identify factors that have had the most impact on retention of effective urban middle school teachers. Data Collection and analysis: was conducted in three phases – 1.focus groups of middle school principals and teachers, 2.development of survey instrument, and 3.factor analysis of survey results from 400 respondents from 49 middle schools in two urban districts.

Middle Schools: A Reform Movement at a Defining Moment
Michael L. Dalton, Oregon State University; P. Maureen Musser, Willamette University; Micki M. Caskey,(Portland State University; William Greene, Southern Oregon State University; Marilyn Olson, University of Oregon; Linda L. Samek, Western Baptist College

Currently there is confusion and controversy regarding the No Child Left Behind Act and what middle level teachers are authorized to teach. The purpose of this study was to investigate five questions:

  1. How do current national policies related to content preparation align with middle level principals’ recommendations for highly qualified teachers?
  2. How are the national and state policies impacting the pool of potential middle school teachers?
  3. How are the national (i.e., NCLB) and state licensure policies understood and applied by middle level principals?
  4. How are the social-emotional needs of middle school students balanced with the growing academic/intellectual expectations for highly qualified middle level teachers?
  5. How is the current climate of high stakes accountability limiting the development of interdisciplinary curriculum?

Issues in Middle Level Education

April 15, 2004

Chair: Micki M. Caskey, Portland State University
Discussant: Richard P. Lipka, Pittsburg State University

Assessing the Success of Turning Points in Boston Public Schools
Steve Mertens, CPRD, University of Illinois; Nancy Flowers, CPRD, University of Illinois

This paper examines the evidence of effectiveness of Turning Points, a middle-grades’ Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) model. Utilizing a quasi-experimental design, two types of data and two control groups are used in evaluating the effectives of the reform model on a group of nine middle-grade schools in Boston, Massachusetts. The data consists of self-study data collected from teachers, principals, and students and school-level student achievement data. Teachers in Turning Points’ schools report slightly higher levels of team and classroom practices, higher levels of decision-making, and their students report positive levels of self-esteem, efficacy, depression, and behavior problems. Student achievement results for Turning Points were comparable to the control group. Limited-English proficiency (LEP) students in Turning Points’ schools, however, had higher student achievement scores in English as compared to the control group, the district, and the state. Finally, Turning Points’ schools engaged in teaming with high levels of common planning time had higher English achievement scores compared to schools with low or no common planning time.

Relationship Between Criteria for Admission to Middle Childhood Education, Program Completion, and Performance in Teaching
Joanne M. Arhar, Kent State University; Elizabeth Goldthwait, Kent State University

A study of 88 graduates of a middle childhood teacher education program examined the relationship between entrance criteria, successful program completion, and performance in teaching. Entrance criteria include GPA, Praxis I, essay, and interview. Results indicate that GPA is related to subject matter knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and performance on some of the Praxis II tests, but not to student teaching evaluations or Praxis III. Praxis I scores and essay are unrelated to most other variables. Interview scores predict methods GPA. Most students who are admitted to the program successfully complete it. All students who took Praxis III passed it but none of the entrance criteria were found to be significantly related to either student teaching evaluations or Praxis III.

Middle School Teachers Talk About Their Teacher Preparation
Lillie R. Albert, Boston College; Marialice B.F. Curran, Boston College

This case study use interview and survey data to document the influence of teacher preparation programs on middle level teachers. The teachers participating in this study spoke and wrote about three specific types of practices: intellectual, teacher preparation, and affective. This study concludes that there is a difference between middle school students and students at other levels; therefore, this distinction should inform teacher preparation programs on how to best prepare prospective middle level teachers. Specifically designed middle level teacher preparation programs need to provide practicing teachers with a variety of practical experiences at the middle level, including both pre- and full- practicum experiences, as well as specific middle level coursework taught by professors who are ambassadors of the middle school.

Preservice Education of Middle School Teachers: A Contextual Teaching and Learning Approach
Shawn M. Glynn, University of Georgia; K. Denise Muth, University of Georgia; Elizabeth Pate, University of Georgia

One of the major goals of recent reform efforts in middle school education has been to insure that preservice teacher education prepares teachers effectively for classroom practice. Beginning middle school teachers often have difficulty relating various theories and methods taught in preservice courses to what actually happens in their daily teaching practice. This presentation describes a research study that applies a contextual teaching and learning (CTL) approach to the preservice education of middle school teachers at a large state university. Case studies of participating teachers and their students over two years supported the view that preservice education in CTL can accelerate the professional development of middle school teachers and, at the same time, foster their students’ achievement and attitudes.

Examinations of Middle Schools

April 16, 2004


Nurturing a State-Wide Middle Level Education Movement: The Case of Hawai‘i
Paul D. Deering, University of Hawaii

Hawai‘i has taken a leap forward in the education of its early adolescents with the State Board of Education’s recent adoption of the Middle Level Education Policy (HIDOE, 2001), which draws heavily upon the recommendations of the National Middle School Association (1982,1995) and the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development (1989, 1995). While much of the US seems to be experiencing a backlash against the middle level education movement, Hawai‘i has continued to progress, due in large part, to the nurturing of a state-wide middle level education movement. This paper will use case analysis (Merriam, 1998) to examine the growth of Hawai‘i’s middle level education movement and offer recommendations for the further advancement of the movement within and beyond the state.

A Cross-Cultural Study of Time Spent on Sports Activities
Weilin Dou, International Trade University of China; Zhenguo Yuan, Ministry of Education, PRC; Shu-ling Lai, Ling Tung College; Tai-Shent Chang, Ling Tung College; Renmin Ye, Houston ISD

This study discussed and compared the amount of time middle school students devote to playing sports after school, and the perception of how important these sports activities by students themselves, their mothers and their friends. The study represented the perceptions of subjects from sixteen different nations. It explored the differences of after school sport time between male and female students, as well as the relationships between time devoted to sport activities and students’ academic achievement. The findings from this study would be meaningful for international comparative education, student sport activities and physical educational programs.

Capturing the Journey: A Case of Preparing a Middle Level Teacher
Micki M. Caskey, Portland State University

In response to strong evidence supporting the specialized preparation of teachers of young adolescents (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1989; McEwin & Dickinson, 1995; National Middle School Association, 1999), a graduate teacher education program in the Northwest United States developed a program dedicated to preparing middle level teachers. The journey of teachers in an emergent middle level program warrants examination. This case study is part of a larger study of twenty-three teachers who were specifically prepared to teach young adolescents in a middle level cohort. Components of the program were extensive field experience, interactive coursework and cohort structure. Data sources include surveys, interviews, and written reflections. This case will reveal one teacher’s perceptions of his specialized middle level preparation.

Aligning State Reform with Middle School Needs: Contextualizing Accountability Pressure for School Renewal
Tariq T. Akmal, Washington State University; Donald E. Larsen, University of the Pacific

Despite the pressure of high stakes assessment, high-need schools can find ways to help children succeed. In the last three years, Lewis & Clark Middle School has become a school where both faculty and students have a sense of pride and purpose. In a school where 25 to 30% of the students are on IEPs, almost two-thirds are ethnic minorities, two-thirds are on free or reduced lunch, and 50 to 60% of the student population changes during the year, parental involvement soars, disciplinary actions decline, student achievement rises, and staff development flourishes. How? Unlike other schools identified as Schools Needing Improvement, LC welcomed state accountability mandates and obligations, thus illustrating how contextualizing school accountability pressure can help middle school renewal.

Exploring Motivation and Achievement in School Contexts: Sixth Graders Talk About Middle School Experiences
Erika Dale Daniels, University of San Diego, San Diego State University

This study highlights the dearth of young adolescents’ voices in current research on motivation and academic achievement. In order for teachers to create motivating learning environments, they need to understand the factors that influence students’ decisions to engage or not engage in school. This study uses a collective case study approach in order to explore the reasons sixth graders at the beginning of their middle school experiences choose either to engage or to disengage in school learning experiences. These decisions, in turn, affect their academic achievement. It is framed by sociocultural theory in order to explore how elements in the students’ environment (language, gestures, interactions) influence students’ motivation and identity construction.

Novel Readings: Exploring the Effects of Technology-Enhanced Activities on Adolescent Literature Engagement and Social Learning
Prudence H. Cuper, Keene State College; Hiller A. Spires, North Carolina State University

This case study examined the effects of technology-based activities (i.e., Internet research, Web discussions, and an interactive Web site) on the interplay of five 8th grade students’ socially constructed learning and cognitive text engagement with young adult literature. Findings suggest that technology-based activities can facilitate collaborative meaning making and distributed expertise while fostering group-based critical evaluation of resources; and provide a unique means of exploring personal identity, a central developmental issue during adolescence. The grounded theoretical results of this study contribute to our understanding of emerging technology applications and their potential impact on adolescent literacy using non-standardized assessments. In order to encourage greater teacher technology use, future research should include standardized assessments as well.

Middle Level Teachers, Students, and Administrators

April 16, 2004

Chair: Micki M. Caskey, Portland State University
Discussant: Larry G Daniel – University of North Florida

Developmentally Responsive Leadership: A Look at the Middle School Principal
Kathleen Roney, University of North Carolina at Wilmington; Vincent A. Anafara, Jr., University of Tennessee; Claudia Smarkola, Temple University; Joseph P. Ducette, Temple University

If, indeed, educational excellence is inextricably coupled with effective school leadership, there is much to be gained from studying the experience of school leaders. Middle school principals who are serious about reforming their schools face a daunting challenge. They need to reconstruct core ideas about their role, and therefore, how they spend their time, set their priorities, seek new knowledge and skills, and situate themselves with respect to teachers and others in the educational community. This process is complicated, takes time, and requires models of good practice. Given the virtual absence of research specific to middle school leaders, this research provides us with the opportunity to learn from individuals as they live out their professional lives in schools.

Academic Competence of a Sample of Adolescents Retained in Grade Versus a Typically-Developing Sample
Stacey M. Neuharth-Pritchett, University of Georgia; Angela G. Fiske, University of Georgia

Despite the substantial body of literature that has accumulated against the practice of retention, schools in the United States continue to advance the practice as a sound educational choice for students (Mantzicopoulos, 1997). While there is an extensive view of the contributions of individual student-related variables to the numbers of students retained, few investigations have focused on adolescents’ perceptions of their academic or scholastic competence and actual data from the students’ standardized test scores. This study presents data from 266 adolescents indicating that retained students have lower competence as well as academic achievement. Implications for schools are provided.

Marginalized from School: Adolescents’ Perceptions of Teachers Prior to the Transition to Middle School
Audra K. Parker, University of Georgia; Stacey M. Neuharth-Pritchett, University of Georgia

The transition from elementary school to middle school is a monumental step for young adolescents. In addition to physical, emotional, and environmental changes faced by this age group, they must also leave the nurturing, caring confines of the elementary school for larger, competitive, intimidating middle schools. Recent research has focused on the concept of school satisfaction and adolescents’ ratings of their behavior and connections to school (Baker, 1998). This study presents data from fifth grade students and their perceptions of their teachers prior to their transition to sixth grade in the middle school. Data indicate that students who have less positive perceptions of their teachers have more negative outcomes on a number of social and emotional variables.

Examining the Relationships Among Knowledge, Dispositions, and Performances in Novice Middle Level Teachers
Sara Davis Powell, College of Charleston

This research seeks to verify or refute widely assumed relationships among knowledge, dispositions, and performances. Recent graduates of an elementary education program (grades 1-8) who taught middle grades (6-8) during 2002-2003 are participants responding to a 153-item survey based directly on the NMSA/NCATE Standards for Initial Preparation. The responses range from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Responses are subjected to Spearman’s rho to determine correlation coefficients for each of the three paired relationships among knowledge, dispositions, and performances (k/d, k/p, d/p). Three related hypotheses state the correlations will be positive. The results will either confirm or call into question assumed relationships and have potential implications for teacher educators and the premises of the National Middle School Association concerning teacher preparation.

Balancing the Integrity of a Comprehensive School Design Model with Experimentation and Local Context
Jay Feldman, Center for Collaborative Education; Monique Y. Ouimette, Center for Collaborative Education

A significant finding of studies examining the effectiveness of CSRD schools is that schools that implement the design fully are more likely to show gains in student improvement. However, levels of implementation vary greatly across schools and districts, and the ability of designs to adapt to local contexts has met with mixed success. The Turning Points Middle School design developers believe that the implementation of their principles and practices must vary in local context. The design’s use of Regional Centers is unique among middle school reform models, providing local, intensive, on-site support. This paper discusses how Regional Centers and external facilitators view their roles in middle school change, and describes local innovations in implementation to meet the TP vision.