— DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — Middle school represents a major time of transition for students, as they adapt to more rigorous coursework and time management demands, all while they're going through various developmental and socialization changes.
Many students who did well in elementary school seem to hit a brick wall when it comes to academic growth in these years, but getting them to push through these problems is essential to avoiding bigger academic and discipline problems in the future, including dropping out of school.
"What schools are trying to do is help students become independent thinkers," said Peggy Fillio, a Southern Regional Education Board improvement specialist. "If they don't, they'll live with their parents until they're 30."
Dothan's middle schools appear to be bucking the trend toward lower performance in middle school years, as test scores for middle school students have risen steadily in recent years. Overall, the gap between fifth and sixth grade reading and math scores on the Alabama Reading and Math Test are minimal, according to Southern Regional Education Board statistics. The SREB says 92.98 percent of Dothan fifth grade students scored proficient or better on state reading tests, as opposed to 92.5 percent of sixth grade students. SREB figures say 94.99 percent of Dothan fifth grade students scored proficient or better on state math tests, as opposed to 80.55 percent of sixth grade students.
This is no accident, according to Southern Regional Education Board specialists who have been working with the local school system to improve middle schools. SREB specialists have been providing local middle schools with leadership and instructional training for school leaders and principals and have also been implementing other programs to help local middle schools appeal to student interests.
Maria Johnson, assistant principal at Beverlye Magnet School, said students face a number of challenges when they come to middle school. For starters, students are going through physical changes linked to puberty causing difficulties in behavior. Socialization changes are also occurring, as parents become less important to students and their peers become more important.