National Middle School Association's Position Statement on Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
National Middle School Association has set forth its vision of the educational program needed to provide a fully effective program for young adolescents in This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents (2003). This paper is a supplement to that foundational document focusing on the critical areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
National Middle School Association fully recognizes the challenges inherent in attempts to develop curriculum, instruction, and assessment that respect and meet the distinct learning and developmental needs of young adolescents. Like elementary and high schools, middle schools must respond to local, state, and federal standards; manage growing diversity among students in a complex society; and balance effective learning practices with high-stakes accountability. In addition to these demands, designing learning activities for middle school students requires tailoring curriculum, instruction, and assessment to the variable characteristics of 10- to 15-year-old learners who are actively involved in maturing as well as in learning.
Meeting the challenges of designing engaging learning opportunities for young adolescent students does not mean and has never meant that middle schools shy away from challenging content in favor of making students feel good about themselves. Nor does it mean that classroom activities are all "fun" and devoid of any real learning. Instead, it means that middle school curriculum must be relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory in a climate of high expectations. Instruction has to embrace multiple teaching approaches and assessment measures.
Middle Level Curriculum
A relevant curriculum enables "students to pursue answers to questions they have about themselves, content, and the world." Relevant learning opportunities
- Immerse students in rich and significant content knowledge.
- Lead students to demonstrate higher levels of learning and understanding.
- Include students' questions, ideas, and concerns.
- Expand the learning community beyond the school.
- Allow young adolescents to study concepts and skills in areas of interest.
A challenging curriculum targets state and national standards, actively engages young adolescents in substantive issues, "and increasingly enables students to assume control of their own learning." Challenging learning opportunities
- Move beyond covering content and rote learning activities.
- Help students become skilled writers, thinkers, and researchers.
- Engage students in demanding problem solving activities.
- Explore how and why things happen.
- Examine assumptions, principles, and alternative points of view.
An integrative curriculum focuses on coherent ideas and concepts irrespective of arbitrary subject boundaries and enables students to see connections and real-world applications. Integrative learning opportunities
- Engage students in rigorous, in-depth study.
- Address reading, writing, and other fundamental skills within all subject areas.
- Enhance critical thinking, decision-making, and creativity.
- Require students to reflect on their learning experiences.
- Enable students to apply content and skills to their daily lives.
An exploratory curriculum directly reflects the curious, adventuresome nature of young adolescents. Exploration is not a classification of content; rather, it is an attitude and approach to all curriculum and instruction. Exploratory learning opportunities
- Broaden students' views of themselves and the world.
- Help students discover their interests and aptitudes.
- Assist students with career exploration and decisions about their futures.
- Contribute to the development of well-rounded, self-sufficient citizens.
- Open doors to new ideas and areas to investigate.
Middle Level Instruction
Instruction brings curriculum to life. The distinct learning characteristics of young adolescents provide the foundation for selecting learning and teaching strategies, just as they do for designing curriculum. Learning approaches in middle schools should
- Augment the skills, abilities, and prior knowledge of young adolescents.
- Cultivate multiple intelligences and students' individual learning styles.
- Offer students choices in how best to learn.
- Involve students in establishing and assessing personal goals.
- Help students acquire various ways of posing and answering questions.
- Include both student-centered and teacher-directed strategies.
- Emphasize collaboration among teachers.
- Utilize varying forms of group work and cooperative activities.
- Involve families and utilize community resources.
- Incorporate technology in the learning process.
Middle Level Assessment
A continuous, authentic, and appropriate assessment program provides many evidences of students' progress in meeting their curricular goals or objectives. Assessment strategies should honor the learning characteristics of young adolescents and increasingly de-emphasize competitive comparisons with other students. Such programs
- Document students' mastery of both essential knowledge and skills.
- Assess critical thinking, independence, responsibility, and related behavioral traits.
- Offer students' choices in how best to demonstrate their learning specify assessment criteria in advance and incorporate examples of quality work as models.
- Include a variety of formats such as journals, portfolios, demonstrations, publications, and multimedia presentations so student learnings can be shared with others.
- Inform and involve families in the assessment program.
- Provide teachers with data for planning instruction.
Moving Middle Level Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Forward
Some elements of effective middle grades education, such as organizing teams, have taken hold in schools across the country. Making changes in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, however, has been more difficult. Despite expanding research and improved understanding of how best to educate 10- to 15-year-olds, curricular and instructional aspects of middle schools have tended to follow traditional secondary practices. Teachers and school leaders, with the support of parents and families, must implement non-traditional practices to adequately address the learning needs of middle level students.
Classroom teachers should
- Establish learner-centered classrooms that encourage and honor student voice.
- Develop standards-based curricula that integrate subject area disciplines along with students' concerns and questions.
- Design instruction to meet the diverse needs of every student.
- Measure student progress and development with a variety of authentic assessments.
- Guide students in discovering their aptitudes and interests.
School leaders should
- Lead in creating a shared vision focused on the needs of young adolescent students.
- Establish ongoing, school-based professional development that deals with teachers' identified needs.
- Provide organizational structures that enable teachers and students to develop collaboratively relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory curricula.
- Expect teachers to use a variety of student-centered instructional approaches that meet the individual needs of students.
- Hold teachers accountable for using multiple and varied assessments that measure continuous student progress.
Parents and families should
- Understand their child's individual strengths, weaknesses, interests, aptitudes, and talents.
- Insist that schools and teachers address the learning needs of their 10- to 15-year-old.
- Work with schools and teachers to establish appropriate learning outcomes for their child.
- Expect teachers to use a variety of instructional strategies and assessment methods in their classrooms.
- Engage in the learning process by attending classroom events, conferences, and other school activities.
The middle level curriculum needed for today's young adolescents is complex. Criteria of high quality call for both depth and breadth as well as the inculcation of habits of mind that will equip youth to be productive citizens and lifelong learners. Instructional and assessment practices used in implementing such a curriculum must be imaginative, varied, and involve the students in all phases. Strong leadership that understands fully the challenges middle schools face in fulfilling their heavy and distinctive responsibilities is essential all the way from the central office to the classroom.
(Adopted May 2005)