New Federal Study to Focus on the Middle Grades

Longitudinal study to follow 20,000 students from 900 US schools.

The Middle Grades Longitudinal Study of 2017-18 (MGLS:2017) is the first nationally representative study to examine the educational experiences and outcomes of students as they progress through the middle grades (for purposes of the study, defined as grades 6–8).

MGLS:2017 is now field testing data collection instruments and procedures. The baseline national study of sixth graders will be initiated in the 2017-18 school year. A first follow-up of the national study will take place in 2019, and a second follow-up is scheduled for 2020.

MGLS:2017 is sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the U. S. Department of Education. NCES is assisted by RTI International, a not-for-profit university-affiliated research organization.

MGLS:2017 has been designed to foster an understanding of the development and learning that occur during students’ middle grades years and that are predictive of future success, along with the individual, social, and contextual factors that are related to positive outcomes.

A key goal of the study is to provide researchers and policymakers with enhanced understanding of the school and non-school influences associated with mathematics and reading achievement, socioemotional health, and positive life development during the middle grades years and beyond.

The longitudinal nature of MGLS:2017 data will enable unique insights into student growth at the pre-adolescent and early adolescent stages. By following the same students over time researchers will be able to document achievement gains and key transitions. Priority is being given to assessments and questionnaire items expected to be most useful for predicting or explaining individual- and group-level academic achievement, as well as behavioral and affective outcomes.

As a national study, providing information at a high level of statistical precision about various subgroups (defined by characteristics such as race/ethnicity, sex, disability status, school type such as private versus public school, etc.), MGLS:2017 is a large undertaking. The base year of the national study requires approximately 900 participating schools.

More than 20,000 sixth graders will be selected from the participating schools, an average of roughly 25 students per school. Since participation at all levels is voluntary, the success of the study depends on the willingness of schools and individuals to become partners in the research.

A distinctive feature of the study is the collection of information from multiple respondents—students, their parents, school administrators, and mathematics and special education teachers. Students’ mathematics and reading skills, socioemotional development, and executive functions such as working memory, attention, and impulse control will be assessed.

Students will also complete a survey that asks about their engagement in school, out-of-school experiences, peer relationships, and identity development. Parents will be asked about their background, resources, and involvement with their child’s education and school.

Students’ mathematics teachers will complete a two-part survey: In part 1, they will be asked about their background and classroom instruction. In part 2, they will be asked to report on the academic behavior, mathematics performance, and classroom conduct of each study child in their classroom.

For students receiving special education services, their special education teacher will also complete a questionnaire similar in structure to the two-part mathematics teacher instrument, consisting of a teacher-level questionnaire and student-level questionnaire, but with questions specific to the special education experiences and services of the study child. School administrators will be asked to report on school programs and services, as well as on school climate.

The information collected in MGLS will be compiled in a database that can be used by the public and by policy and research communities to examine the middle grades experience at a national level and to address important policy questions.