Abstracts from AERA 2003 Paper Sessions

Rhetoric Versus Reality in Middle Level Education
April 21, 2003

Chair: Sandra Stacki, Hofstra University
Discussant: Gayle A. Davis, The University of Georgia

A Study of Studies
David L. Hough, Southwest Missouri State University; Vicki L. Schmitt, University of Kansas; Marcela J. Ruales, Avinash J. Daga, Gautham J.Pillaipakkam, Southwest Missouri State University

This “Study of Studies” examines the types of middle level research conducted over a twelve-year period between 1991-2002. An analysis is made of the relationship of this body of research to the National Middle School Association’s 21st Century Research Agenda outline of issues, topics, and questions most frequently addressed (and by whom) and were examined in an effort to understand better what is known, believed, and yet unanswered.

The study also examines who has been studying what, where the most research is being disseminated, and in which years the majority of this work has been completed. Which colleges, universities, or other institutions have been turning out the most research and the level of sophistication of that research are examined as well. Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed designs are examined; as well as the most commonly used techniques of data collection: surveys, case studies, interviews, focus groups, observations, or a variety of unobtrusive approaches.

This Study of Studies also finds that much research has been done in the way of counting numbers of schools and types of organizational structures, but an accurate measure of what a bona fide middle school really is, has not been developed, at least not very well. In addition, few have attempted to tackle designs that identify middle level programs, policies, and practices related to student outcomes that can be generalized. While much rhetoric found in the popular literature is used in support of the middle school philosophy, precious little basic research has been done and precious few studies use experimental designs to examine impacts and outcomes.

Effects of an Emergent Specialized Middle Level Teacher Preparation Program
Micki M. Caskey, Portland State University

Overwhelming evidence supports the specialized preparation of middle level teachers and numerous teacher education institutions have developed specific middle level programs. Positioned within an existing graduate program, an emergent middle level model offers a specific pathway for preparing teachers of young adolescents. This study examines the perceptions of twenty-four preservice teachers who were admitted to the program’s first middle level cohort. Model components include extensive field experience, integrative coursework, cohort structure, and collaborative partnerships. Data sources consist of attitude surveys, performance based assessments, and interviews. Findings reveal preservice teachers’ positive attitudes toward the middle level program and its components.

Middle Start CSR: Show Me The Evidence of Effectiveness!
Steven B. Mertens, Nancy Flowers, CPRD, University of Illinois


Maintaining Successful Middle Schools
April 22, 2003

Chair: Maureen Musser, Willamette University
Discussant: Suzanne McCotter, Millersville University

Middle School Voices On Advisory
Jennifer Goodwin, Teachers’ College, Columbia University

The findings of this qualitative study show that students at New York Middle School experience advisory through two interconnected components, the advisory group and the advisor-advisee dyad. In both of these components, students’ experiences are shaped by an interplay of activities, roles, and relations, which are the basic components of a microsystem, according to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological framework. Through the synergy of these two components students experience advisory as helping them to make sense of their school experience; provide them with a sense of belonging; and support for negotiating their relationships with students and teachers. Having advisory also means they have an adult they can talk to who is attentive to their needs and provides academic support. The dyadic relationship provides flexibility so that advisory can meet the varying social, emotional, and academic needs of the students.

Keeping the Faith When the Going is Tough: How One Team Accomplished Success in a Struggling Middle School
David B. Straham, Krystal Layell, UNC Greensboro

Recent investigations have identified characteristics of teachers who have been successful in high poverty, urban middle schools. This case study chronicled ways that one team accomplished success in a school where academic growth was generally low. During the 2001-2002 school year, a university supervisor and a student teacher functioned as participant observers with a two-teacher team whose students have done well on state-mandated achievement tests. Researchers observed lessons, gathered samples of student work, and interviewed teachers. Results documented three principle ways that this team promoted academic achievement. Teachers (a) created a climate of shared responsibility through team building and positive discipline, (b) taught explicit strategies for performing academic tasks, and (c) developed instructional activities that linked inquiry, collaboration, and real-world experiences. Among the challenges this team faced in sustaining success were assisting new colleagues with discipline, implementing mandated programs, and devoting increased time to testing. Results extend our understanding of the dynamic of caring in action that fuel success in challenging settings. Case descriptions suggest that this school and others who wish to increase student performance in similar settings will need to offer teachers higher levels of personal support.

Evaluating Middle Grades Students’ Quantitative Literacy
David K. Pugalee, Kim Hartman, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Middle Level Teacher Development

April 22, 2003


Sharing the Responsibility: A University-School District Investigation of Middle School Transition
Sandra A. Deemer, Suzanne McCotter; Nancy Smith, Millersville University

Given the developmental, academic, and social difficulties that often accompany the transition from elementary school to middle school,
administrators from a local school district approached university faculty for advice and assistance in gathering and analyzing data on the issue of middle school transition. The purposes of this collaborative study were to 1) investigate students’ perceptions regarding their learning environments and 2) suggest interventions that would aid the district in creating developmentally appropriate practices at the secondary level. Working in collaboration with district personnel and university professors, graduate students in a research methods course aided in the design and analysis of both survey and interview protocols. Descriptive analyses of survey data demonstrated that, although the needs of many students were being met, there was a substantial number of students who felt as though they were neither succeeding in school, nor had the support systems necessary to succeed. Interviews with struggling students revealed themes of disconnectedness, more academic rigor, social victimization, and lack of parent involvement. Students who had trouble with the transition to high school were also likely to have struggled at the elementary level, necessitating a focus on these students at both elementary and secondary levels, as well as at the transition point.

The Development and Impact of Principal Leadership Self-Efficacy in Middle Level Schools
Stephen E. Lucas, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This study investigates the development of leadership self-efficacy in the principals of the Association of Illinois Middle-Level Schools network. Set within Bandura’s work on the development of self-efficacy and Turning Points 2000, the paper will report the following preliminary results from the first two phases of the study:

  • The educational, career, and professional development backgrounds of middle level principals;
  • The middle level leadership efficacy of the principals in the seven domains of effective middle level practice;
  • The differences in levels of self-reported middle level leadership efficacy among principals with primarily middle school and non-middle school backgrounds;
  • The implementation of key middle school design components in the schools;
  • The relationships between the self-reported middle level leadership efficacy of the principals and teacher-perceived implementation of key middle school design components in the schools.

The third phase of this study-the interview of a stratified sample of participating principals-will be conducted during May and June, 2003, and will seek to develop understanding of middle school principal self-efficacy in relation to these preliminary findings.

Transition from Elementary to Middle School and Changes in Motivation: An Examination of Chinese Students
Ping Liu, Cal State U. Long Beach

Using Characteristics of Effective Teachers to Encourage Meaningful Teacher Talk and Provide Direction for Professional Development
Sara D. Powell, College of Charleston

Comprehensive Transformation of Middle Schools
April 23, 2003

Chair: Vincent A. Anfara, Jr., The University of Tennessee
Discussant: Nancy Doda, National-Louis University

Students’ Perceptions of the Impact of a Curriculum Integration Experience on Their Learning
Dave F. Brown, West Chester University

Thirteen former 8th grade students who spent a year designing their own curriculum in a curriculum integration project were interviewed to determine their perspectives on the academic value of this experience. The students interviewed were from three separate years of participating in the curriculum integration experience. Respondents believe that their year in their experience improved their skills in reading, writing, social studies, and science MORE than a traditional curricular classroom experience would have. Interviewees also believe that through designing the curriculum themselves they improved their performance in their critical and creative thinking skills, problem solving abilities, research skills, and skills in working with others MORE than theywould have in a traditional curriculum format. The majority of students noted that the curriculum integration project had no impact on their standardized test scores. Those students who entered high school believe that this experience prepared them well for high school academic requirements.

Middle Level Principals’ Perceptions of Teacher Preparation Programs, School Organization and Middle Level Teacher Licensure in Oregon
Maureen Masser, Willamette University; Michael Dalton, Oregon University System; William Greene, Southern Oregon University; Marilyn Olson, University of Oregon; Linda Samek, Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission

In 2000-2002, at the urging of the Oregon Middle Level Consortium, a project was conducted that resulted in the “Oregon Research Report: Middle Level Licensure Study,” a report of survey results about principals’ perceptions of new teachers, instructional organization, and licensure issues for the middle level. While analyzing the results of this study, a group of teacher educators with particular interest in middle level issues surfaced four tensions apparent in the data: teaming without common planning time, instructional change without adequate transition, social/emotional activity needs competing with academic/intellectual engagement needs, and integrated curriculum with subject-specific assessments. Each of these tensions has implications for teacher preparation programs.

This paper describes school demographics, redesigned middle level licensure policies in Oregon, the original study results, findings related to identified tensions, and implications for preparation of middle level teachers. Preparing middle level teachers for both best practices and the reality of what exists in schools is a daunting task, and a number of questions are proposed for ongoing research at the middle level.

Cohorts in Middle Level Teacher Education: A Comparison of Student and Teacher Perceptions
Joanne M. Arhar, Kent State University

Middle Level Paper Discussions

April 23, 2003


Building an Effective Volunteer Tutoring Program to Meet the Needs of Diverse Middle School Learners: Perspectives of the Volunteer Tutors
Elizabeth G. Sturtevant, C. Stephen White, Julie Kidd, Kristy Dunlap, Carla Deniz, George Mason University

Helping Middle Level Teachers to Become Leaders for Change
Paul D. Deering, Anne A. Ashford, University of Hawaii

Infusing the Middle School Curriculum with Career Exploration: What Are Middle Schools Doing to Prepare At-risk Students for High School and Beyond, and What More Could They Be Doing?
Marisa E. Castellano, Johns Hopkins University

Involving Middle School Students as Co-Researchers of Their Media Environment
Sandra V. Turner, Phyllis Bernt, Joseph Bernt, Ohio University

The Impact of Home Life, School Environment, and Peers on the Classroom Achievement of Middle Grades Students
Dawson R. Hancock, Jeanneine P. Jones, The University of North Carolina at charlotte; William Dee Nichols, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Middle Level Teacher Development
April 24, 2003

Chair: Robert Capraro, Texas A&M University
Discussant: David Pugalee, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Middle Level Teacher Preparation: The Impact of the Portfolio Experience on Teachers’ Professional Development
Anne N. Ashford, Hawaii Department of Education; Paul D. Deering, University of Hawaii

This study examined how participants in the Masters in Secondary Education with a Middle Level Emphasis Program (MLMED) at the University of Hawaii perceived their personal experiences with the portfolio process in shaping their middle level teacher preparation and professional practices. The process involved understanding a standards-based teacher portfolio, generating evidence or artifacts, discussing artifacts, sharing portfolio progress, generating reflective writing, defending the portfolio, and using the portfolio following program completion. This study addressed the following questions:
1. What are the perspectives of the participants regarding the effects of the Portfolio process on their professional practices?
2. Which features of the MLMED Portfolio most contribute to or inhibit professional growth?

This study used qualitative case methods that focused on the portfolio process, as framed by three criteria; a social unit (MLMED Cohort One and Cohort Two participants); the period of portfolio construction and use (starting in June of 1996 for Cohort One, to August, 2001 for both Cohorts); the experience of these two Cohorts with this process (constructing and using an exit portfolio). The sample included all of the 62 participants of MLMED Cohort One and Cohort Two; fifth-eight percent consented to participate in this study. Research instruments included electron open-ended questionnaires, focus groups, and individual interviews. This study reveals three major findings:
1. As part of a structured program that included sustained collegial support, the MLMED portfolio leads to perceptions of improved professional practice: i.e., improved pedagogy, more adolescent-centered curricula, and leadership beyond the classroom.
2. The MLMED portfolio process promotes: a deep understanding of the professional standards of middle level educators; and motivation for teachers to see themselves as effective agents in the larger picture of the school systems in which they work.
3. The MLMED portfolio process is an effective professional development model, and aligns with criteria for effective professional development.

Subsequent to the portfolio experience, the participants’ estimation of their professional capabilities grew and took form in their willingness to seek and assume more leadership roles.

Transition and Neophyte Strategies for Success in Middle School
Patrick Akos, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In response to the 2000 Virginia state writing prompt, eighth grade students wrote a letter of advice to a sixth grader coming to middle school for the first time. A purposeful sample of over 5,000 writing responses was collected. Content analysis of a random sample of 350 responses revealed themes in advice for students negotiating the transition to middle school. Content analysis revealed that organizational themes were mentioned more frequently than personal/social or academic themes. The most frequently mentioned themes in each category were choosing and changing classes or electives, improving study habits, and making and managing friends. Data also revealed wide diversity in advice and a robust sense of student agency, including recommendations of student attitudes and attributes that were deemed important for new middle school students. Implications for school personnel are discussed and future research directions are presented.

A National Evaluation of the Success of an Alternative Middle School Model for Urban Minority Children
L. Mickey Fenzel, Loyola college in MD; Debby Deal, Loyola College

The present study is a pilot investigation of six alternative urban middle schools for students of color that follow the Nativity model that emphasizes small class and school site, extended instruction, and strong relationships with family. The six schools included in the present study are found in five different urban locations in the U.S. In five of the six schools students showed improvements in standardized test scores in reading and math that exceeded one grade level per year and high grade 6-to-8 persistence rates. Across all schools, student academic performance was found to be related to principals’ perceptions of parents’ commitment to their child’s education, students’ social mature ratings, ratings of students’ leadership, and, to a lesser extent, student academic effort. School data show that student academic performance was related negatively to school size, average class size, and student-teacher ratio and positively to the expenditure for teacher salaries per student. This preliminary research will serve to inform a more extensive investigation of the model to include factors such as the quality of administrative leadership and teaching.

Symposium: Perspectives on Middle Level Student Achievement
April 24, 2003

Facilitator: Joanne M. Arhar, Kent State University

What Counts as ‘Achievement?’ Looking at a “New Literacy” Middle School Classroom
William Kist, Kent State University

Based on a long-term research study, this presentation will describe how “new literacies” teachers conceptualize achievement in their classrooms. “New literacies” teachers seek to broaden the conception of “literacy” in their classrooms to embrace multiple forms of representation. “Student achievement” in theses classrooms is demonstrated via alternative assignments and assessments that will be described.

Learning Organizations, Leadership, and Student Learning
Sue C. Thompson, University of Missouri, Kansas City; Larry Gregg, University of Missouri, Kansas City; John M. Niska, Rhode Island College

Through a study of six middle school principals, this presentation will answer the following questions:

  • What a learning organization looks like in a middle school;
  • What kind of principal creates a learning organization in his/her school;
  • What are the beliefs and dispositions of such a leader;
  • Whether teachers perceive their school to be a learning organization; and
  • Is there a relationship between a learning organization, leadership, and student learning?

Competing Paradigms, Student Achievement, and the Role of Teachers as Decision Makers
Joanne Arhar, Kent State University

Research on the Middle-School Concept and Student Achievement: Inconclusive and Complex
Vincent A. Anfara, Jr., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The Impact of Team and Classroom Practices on Student Achievement
Steven Mertens, Center for Prevention Research and Development

Student Learning, Teacher’s Perceptions, District Standards: The Jury is Still Out
Larry Holt, University of Central Florida