Study Shows Middle School Transition Affects High School Success

How do we ensure high school students graduate with skills to succeed in higher education and increase the number of students walking on graduation day? Many believe the answer is to start preparing them for success at the beginning of the students’ high school career by helping them through the transition from 8th to 9th grade. Preparing students for their most important transitions is critical to their success, however, a new study of Florida schools shows intervention should start years earlier in the transition from grade school to middle school.

According to the Education Week article “Study Links Academic Setbacks to Middle School Transition,” the new study by the Program on Education Policy and Governance Working Papers Series at Harvard, found:

“…students moving from grade 5 into middle school show a ‘sharp drop’ in math and language arts achievement in the transition year that plagues them as far out as 10th grade, even risking thwarting their ability to graduate high school and go on to college.”

The study also found students who transition from 5th to 6th grade miss more school days in middle school and are more likely to drop out of school than those who attend K-8 schools and aren’t required to take the transition.

Managing editor of the Middle Grades Research Journal and dean emeritus of Missouri State University’s college education, David L. Hough, said many researchers have focused on the transition to high school because the most dropout rates are in 9th and 10 grades, however, in the study researchers found “the transition from middle to high school was much less traumatic for students than the one from elementary to middle school.”

The reason this transition is significantly more traumatic is due to all the new hormonal changes students are going through and the many different rates students are experiencing cognitive, emotional, and physical changes.

So what can be done to assist middle school students through this rough transition and turn high school drop-out rates around? One option discussed in the article is eliminating the transition altogether, allowing students to attend a K-8 school and then only take the less stressful transition to high school.

However, less dramatic changes can be made to the school with equally beneficial results. Patti Kinney, an associate director of middle-level services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in Reston, Va said:

“A lot of times, people talk about transition programs, and they are talking about what they are doing in 9th grade, when they really need to be working with their middle schools to support students much earlier.”

LifeBound offers Success in Middle School: A Transition Roadmap, which also has an accompanying curriculum available for teachers. Students learn how to adjust to multiple teachers, handle increasing academic demands, negotiate challenging social situations and much more. Click the link above to read a sample chapter or find a quiz for students to see if they’re ready for the transition.

I also recently held a webinar on transition success for parents and educators of both middle and high school students with School Speciality that you can watch for free.

We offer many resources for teachers, parents, and students transitioning. Please take a look at the LifeBound website or send your specific transition needs to


“Study Links Academic Setbacks to Middle School Transition,” by Sarah D. Sparks. 28 November 2011. Education Week. Accessed on 29 November 2011.

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One Response to “Study Shows Middle School Transition Affects High School Success”

  1. […] in my article Study Shows Middle School Transition Affects High School Success, I also shared how developing research shows the transition to middle school is more traumatic to […]

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