Middle Grades Design and Improvement

Executive Summary


Middle-grade transition (i.e. grade 5 to grade 6) and middle-level education (i.e. grade 6 to grade 8) is considered by research a developmental stage where students can experience exponential intellectual growth. Research also contends that although middle-level education is an arduous phase for students developmentally, time, support, and engagement are key variables to alleviate this educational quandary. In order to support trans-adolescents during the middle-level years, educational institutions must be structurally, programmatically, and thematically sound for student achievement. Thus, the need for instructional systems within middle schools to be rigorous, personalized, and relevant to engage students in the academic setting.

A leverage point to address student achievement decline during middle-grade transition and flat line effects for accelerated academic growth is ensuring educational programs are robust and relevant for rich learning experiences. A comprehensive middle school redesign that is grounded on increasing time and structural supports will provide a platform for students to explore ideas based on their personal interest, while addressing academic deficiencies in a strategic manner.

Research that Grounds the Middle School Redesign Process:

The process of the middle school redesign will be grounded using the research of Dr. Bill Dagget on improving secondary schools. Dr. Dagget contends that highly effective middle/high schools are innovative in design and structure. He also suggests a strategic design will address adolescent needs through “Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships”. Highly effective schools, in the context of the “3Rs”, promote rigor through viable curriculum/challenging instruction, relevant learning experiences to promote engagement, and relationships that are meaningful so students establish trust in their respective learning community.


Using the “Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships” theoretical framework, each middle school will examine new structural, programmatic, and thematic themes to adopt for the redesign. The following are various elements that support a comprehensive redesign using Dr. Daggett’s framework of highly efficient middle schools:




  1. 90 Minute ELA/Math Block


  2. A/B Schedule


  3. Read 180/Math 180 (Structural Supports)


  4. Exploratory Programs


  5. Enrichment Content Courses


  6. Alignment of curriculum to thematic focuses (enhancement of curricular framework)
  1. Self-Contained Model (Grade 6)


  2. Vertical House Structure (Grade 6, 7, and 8)


  3. 7/8 Integrated Small Learning Communities


  4. Middle School Themes (Global Studies, STEM, Arts, Humanities, and Teach-to-One)


  1. 1:20 Teacher/Student Ratio (Supports Vertical House and 7/8 Integrated Design)


  2. Push-In SPED Practitioners


  3. Designated ELL Support for Each Vertical House or Integrated Small Learning Community


  4. 2-Year Learning Community Design


  5. Designated Counselor for SLCs/Vertical House Structure)


  6. “Housemasters” or “SLC Leaders” for designated grade levels


The design of each element within the “Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships” middle school model predicates on practitioner collaboration for professional learning. This PLC structure will invite leaders and practitioners to explore, experiment, and implement new methods of pedagogy to advance teaching/learning. This will call for a restructuring of Monday afternoon meetings to “Professional Learning and Data Workshops.”

Process of Implementation:

Based on the Managed Performance Empowerment (MPE) theory of action that is being implemented in the Norwalk Public Schools, middle schools will have controlled autonomy of identifying one or more element from each domain to design their school. This process will be guided and supported by central office in a collaborative manner. Also, a middle school redesign committee of four administrators (one from each school), four teachers (one from each school), parent representatives, and central office administrators (Operations and Curriculum Office) will meet monthly to discuss structural, program, and theme adoption for each middle school until formal implementation until the 2016-2017 academic year. The three-year goal of this process is to ensure all middle schools have multiple elements from the “3Rs Framework” embedded into their learning culture.