A comprehensive educational reform program for middle grades, FHI 360’s Middle Start has served more than 250 schools in 10 states. The program has aided in creating small learning communities, guiding school self-assessments, aligning curricula and instruction with standards, and building collaborative leadership and community partnerships.
Research FHI 360 conducted over 10 years indicates positive outcomes in student achievement, student responsibility and the formation of small learning communities for Middle Start schools. Standardized test data and interviews with students, teachers and stakeholders show that Middle Start schools have consistently outpaced similar schools and state averages in achievement gains (especially in Michigan, Arkansas and Mississippi); that student achievement in Middle Start schools improved significantly in reading, mathematics, science, and social studies; and that Middle Start produced significant improvements in school climate, teacher collaboration and student engagement in learning. In addition, teachers reported improvements in the timeliness and completion of student work as a direct result of Middle Start strategies to promote student responsibility for academic success. Interview data further confirmed the positive academic and developmental benefits of small learning communities, grade-level teaming and advisory programs. The teachers noted the benefits of teaming as emphasized flexibility, cross-curricular connections, improved communication and expanded opportunities to support students.
Middle Start works to help schools conduct self-assessment (SSA)/school quality reviews through anonymous teacher and student attitudes and beliefs about the school. FHI 360 staff developed and promoted school self-assessments in Michigan (1996–2003) that gathered data from external peer reviews, using the school’s teaching and student learning goals. Three of five schools participating in a qualitative study from 1998 to 2002 saw improvement in teacher engagement and practice, school climate, student engagement and achievement.
- There was school-wide participation in professional development related to instructional priorities. Schools were innovative in connecting teachers with internal experts for professional development and used inquiry processes to monitor and inform implementation.
- Teachers reported that school climate improved as a result of staff collaboration and increased responsiveness of the leadership to instructional issues.
- Greater numbers of students attained proficiency in reading as measured by changes in statewide 7th-grade reading averages from 1998 to 2001.
In addition, the five SSA schools in Michigan significantly outperformed the district average in 2001 for percentage of students attaining proficiency on the 7th-grade reading and writing tests.