K-8th Grade Configuration Frequently Asked Questions
Why are we reconfiguring our schools?
Middle schools are increasingly switching to the K–8 model to improve student achievement. Researchers found that students in the K–8 schools had higher academic achievement as measured by both grade point averages and standardized test scores, especially in math. These students also participated more in extracurricular activities, demonstrated greater leadership skills, and were less likely to be bullied than those following the elementary/middle school track (Mayhem in the Middle: Why We Should Shift to K-8, 2006).
Research also suggests that K‐8 schools are particularly beneficial for underperforming students. A 2010 study on the impacts of grade configuration in New York City found that students in traditional middle schools fall behind their peers from K‐8 schools, particularly in math and English, and that “students with lower initial levels of academic achievement fare especially poorly in middle school.” This research and other studies all point to improved academic outcomes for students in K‐8 schools. (Hanover Research, 2014)
What are the advantages of a K-8 model?
Some advantages of K‐8 schools include:
- Safety: older children with younger siblings at the same school often assume roles as protectors, tutors, and role models in school.
- Parental involvement: parents with one or more children at the same school for an extended period of time are more likely to remain connected to the school and enroll other
students at the school.
- Staff connection: working at schools in a smaller geographic area with students who remain for a longer period of time allows school staff members to feel more connected to the
communities in which they work. Staff members are also able to build lasting bonds with students and watch their students develop into young adults throughout their time at
- Travel convenience: siblings can travel to school together at the same time, simplifying the logistics of sending multiple children to school.
- Discipline: students who remain at one school for a longer period of time are more well‐known to parents, teachers, and other adults and are less likely to get into trouble at school.
Smaller cohorts of seventh‐ and eighth‐graders are also easier for teachers to manage.
- Shared knowledge: teachers with middle school teaching experience can share their subject matter expertise with elementary school teachers, while elementary school teachers can
inform middle‐grade teachers about specific students’ histories, learning styles, and other unique characteristics.
- Lasting relationships: teachers and students build lasting bonds that can foster a supportive, trusting environment. Older students can return to teachers from younger grades for
support, advice, or friendship. Students also build lasting relationships with classmates.
- Leadership development: older students in K‐8 schools have the opportunity to develop leadership skills as role models, teachers’ aides, tutors, and bus monitors.
- Minimizing transitions: students in K‐8 schools only make one transition before graduating.
- Cost‐effectiveness: K‐8 schools are typically smaller than middle schools and therefore are more cost‐effective for utilities, maintenance, and staffing costs (Hanover Research, 2014).
Will this require a redesign of the school boundaries? What will that look like?
The simple answer is yes, this will require a redrawing of school boundaries that will affect families in the community. Throughout this process, the school district will do its best to balance the schools and minimize disruption to students and families.
Won’t the facilities need to be renovated to allow for these changes?
This reconfiguration will require some retrofitting of schools to allow for the educational needs of the student body. Some of these changes will be creating science lab space for our older students as well as making sure bathroom facilities are adequate to meet the needs of the student attending the school. We will also be looking at physical separation between the younger and older students to ensure the community feels safe sending their child to school. Once again, throughout this process there will be study teams developed to explore solutions to any challenges that come up.
What about student safety? I’m concerned older students will bully or pick on younger students.
This is a very real concern for everyone in the Othello School District. Let me first address this concern by pointing to research findings on the subject (as listed above):
Safety: older children with younger siblings at the same school often assume roles as protectors, tutors, and role models in school.
Discipline: students who remain at one school for a longer period of time are more well‐known to parents, teachers, and other adults and are less likely to get into trouble at school.
Smaller cohorts of seventh‐ and eighth‐graders are also easier for teachers to manage (Hanover Research, 2014).
Also these new configurations allow each school to develop a unique identity and culture within the school and develop a sense of “family” amongst the staff, students, and community it serves. This sense of community and belonging will combat bullying and other negative behaviors often found in middle schools.
The OSD is also creating a Social Emotional Learning/Positive Behavior Support System committee to explore best practices around student discipline and attendance. This team will also develop district supports for the buildings to explicitly teach students the behavior expectations at schools and how to foster that sense of community and safety in their building.
I have heard you mention Research Teams during these questions, what are those?
Research teams are designed to explore challenges that arise and find creative and innovative solutions to these challenges. The teams will be looking at current research and benchmarking existing programs to find what is working elsewhere and then “Othello-ize” those findings. We highly encourage you to get involved and help us change the world scholar by scholar.
How will this change affect our students' emotional well being?
The majority of research shows significant advantages in both the psychological and social-emotional areas for students in elementary and K-8 grade configurations compared to students in middle school or junior high school grade configurations. One clear finding in the research is that school transitions, overall, have a negative effect on academic, psychological, social-emotional, and student behavior outcomes. This suggests that the fewer transitions for students, the better. The research also found that teachers in elementary schools reported significantly fewer student discipline issues, student violence, student substance abuse, and student absenteeism than teachers in middle and junior high schools (Center for Applied Research and Educational Development, 2011).
What about current initiatives from this year?
Our focus for the 2017-2018 school has been to build Collective Teacher Efficacy and Teacher Clarity. This work will live on in the new configuration for our district. A common belief amongst the staff is that together and individually we can meet the needs of our students and accomplish the lofty academic goals our students deserve. This will be a vital component to any future success for the OSD. Furthermore, being intentional and clear in our classroom instruction will allow us to continue to move forward in our pursuit of changing the world scholar by scholar.
What will this mean for the McFarland Middle School Schedule?
As we consider the future for the OSD and prepare for a larger change taking place in 2019-2020, decision making must also shift to allow for a smooth transition. One of these decisions will be the schedule at MMS and looking at the best way to allow for MMS teachers to acclimate to working on a smaller team and with fewer students. The MMS Guiding Team will be involved in any discussions about next steps.
How will staffing change with this transition?
A reconfiguration will involve some staff movement. The District will work closely with the Othello Education Association (OEA) to design a system that is fair and equitable for everyone. In the recent past we were able to develop an equitable system to staff Wahitis when it opened, without resorting to involuntary transfers. We envision developing a similar system this time around as well.
What will the new configuration mean for curriculum in the future?
This reconfiguration will have an impact on curriculum and future adoptions. With the move to a K-8 structure, we will need to be focused much more on system cohesion K-8 and find the proper resources to build upon existing systems at the elementary level. However, beyond curriculum, this reconfiguration will also allow OSD the opportunity to look at creating grouping of 6-8 grade students and the possible creation of content specialists to meet the academic needs of these students.
How will Middle Level athletics work in this new configuration?
A new configuration will create some unique opportunities previously un-encountered in Othello. In order to address this issue, and many others, we are creating study teams to explore and find creative solutions to address any challenges. We will also look to benchmark existing districts that have a K-8 system and learning from those in the field already doing the same work we are embarking upon. More information about these study teams will be brought out shortly, and we would encourage you to engage in this exciting work if an area intrigues you.
What will happen with Dual Language?
Dual Language will still exist in the OSD. With this reconfiguration we now will have an opportunity to provide more cohesive continuity of services for our Dual Language families at the Middle Level.
Why is the district moving ahead with a K-8 system when the community was overwhelmingly against it during the bond process?
We don't know exactly why the bond failed and we cannot speculate without the data. We will soon be surveying the community in an effort to learn more about the failure of the bond.