Direct Instruction in Middle School
A Review of Results from Two Middle Schools Implementing DI
The middle school grades are the last chance to customize instruction for large groups of students struggling to meet grade-level expectations. Schools serving these grades also often experience an influx of large numbers of students who can’t access content courses. Generally, struggling students have limited reading and/or math proficiency that limits their understanding of science, social studies and other courses in which foundational skills are applied. If students don’t receive instruction in middle school that increases their reading and math skills, they will have even more difficulty accessing content course material when they reach high school.
Once students reach high school, a system of credit requirements complicates school-wide efforts to address the skills of struggling student. Most high schools cannot offer remedial courses for credit. The middle school setting allows teachers and administrators to respond to students’ needs with customized solutions that target fundamental skills in reading and mathematics without the need to earn credits for graduation requirements.
Below are the experiences of two high-poverty middle schools that implemented DI with support from NIFDI.
City Springs School – Baltimore, MD
City Springs School located in Baltimore, Maryland is a high-poverty school with a student population that is almost exclusively African American (see Figure 1). City Springs serves students in K-8. As a result, with the exception of new students coming into the school, the majority of the middle school youth have received instruction in DI.
Prior to the implementation of Direct Instruction, the school had a history of low performance. Only 33% of 7th grade students met or exceeded the benchmark standards on the Maryland State Assessment (MSA) exam in 2004-05. This means two out of every three children were failing!
Over the course of the next five years, City Springs School implemented Direct Instruction with NIFDI’s support. During this time, the school's teaching staff were trained on critical aspects of the program, including student assessment, program delivery and adjusting instruction to react to individual students' needs. Through NIFDI’s coaches training model, the school’s leadership team developed the skills necessary to effectively lead a full-immersion DI implementation. As a result, the percentage of 7th graders meeting or exceeding the state benchmark more than doubled, from 33% to 79% (see Figure 2).
Bunche Middle School – Atlanta, GA
Students at Bunche Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia demonstrated significant improvements from the time they entered middle school as 6th graders to spring of their 8th grade year as a result of Direct Instruction with NIFDI’s support. Since Bunche is a feeder school for a number of elementary schools, students arrive with a wide range of skill levels that need to be addressed through instruction.
Bunche Middle School is comprised almost exclusively of African American students with 89% of the student body qualifying for the federal free-reduced lunch program (see Figure 3). With NIFDI support for implementing Direct Instruction, every cohort enjoyed significant gains from 2005 to 2009 (see Figure 4).
The first group through the program went from 87% of students meeting or exceeding the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) their first year in middle school to 96% of students passing the exam as 8th graders (see Figure 4). Similar results are evident for subsequent cohorts, including the 2006-07 cohort with 92% of students passing. Just two years later, 94 percent of students were passing – a difficult gain to achieve with already high-performing students!
While City Springs School and Bunche Middle School operate under varying circumstances, both achieved significant success through Direct Instruction and NIFDI support. Schools across the nation can leverage the opportunity to close the performance gap at the middle grades while preparing students for the rigors of high school before it’s too late through a schoolwide implementation of Direct Instruction. Both schools received comprehensive professional development from NIFDI that included:
- Extensive program training for new and returning teachers
- In-class observations and coaching sessions at least one week per month
- Coaches’ Training for peer mentors
- Weekly data analysis and problem solving sessions