New Findings from AMLE Successful Middle School Research Project Presented at AERA

The research compares perceptions of how middle schools meet young adolescent needs across community groups

For immediate release.

April 23, 2024

In an exciting next step for AMLE’s Successful Middle School Research Project, Dr. Sarah Pennington presented new research findings during this month’s American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting. Held this year in Philadelphia, the meeting is one of the world’s largest gatherings of education researchers and policymakers. Dr. Pennington, Education Department Head at Montana State University, leads the AMLE initiative that aims to advance middle level education research utilizing data collected from schools around the world through AMLE’s Successful Middle School Assessment.

The Successful Middle School Assessment supports schools in measuring implementation of middle grades best practice through a series of research-based exemplars. In addition to staff, schools can also include students and families in their Assessment to gain community-wide picture of how they’re meeting the needs of young adolescents. The school receives a report with a comprehensive data analysis and actionable next steps to support their continued improvement, while their anonymized data also contributes to the research project.

The initial phase of the project centered on validating the Assessment as a reliable statistical tool for schools. Having completed that work, Dr. Pennington and her team’s work progressed to investigating research questions of interest to the field, including:

  • Whether there are significant differences between the perceptions of different groups within the school community (teachers/staff, parents/caregivers, and students) regarding their school’s effectiveness in meeting the needs of young adolescents? and
  • What patterns are evident in comparisons of these perceptions?

Research consistently demonstrates the significant impact of a positive school climate on young adolescents’ educational experience. The perceptions of students, teachers, school staff, and parents/caregivers all play critical roles in shaping the school climate and educational outcomes. Understanding these perceptions and addressing potential discrepancies is therefore vital for creating a supportive, inclusive, and productive learning environment for young adolescents – one of the eighteen characteristics of a successful middle school included in AMLE’s landmark text on best practice in the middle grades.

Using Successful Middle School Assessment data from ten schools, Dr. Pennington and her team found statistically significant differences in perceptions across the three groups (school staff, parents/caregivers, and students). As one example, when assessing whether the school environment is welcoming, inclusive, and affirming for all, parents/caregivers indicated more positive perceptions related to this characteristic than both school staff and students, while students indicated higher perceptions than school staff. Conversely, school staff viewed the school’s counseling services and family engagement more positively than both parents/caregivers and students.

Across the characteristics of successful middle schools included within the study, student perceptions were significantly lower than those of at least one group of adults. Overall, however, participants viewed their schools positively – though with high standard deviations indicating many observations far from the mean.

AMLE expects to publish the full results of the study later this year and to continue the work of the Successful Middle School Research Project by examining the interconnectedness of the characteristics of successful middle schools as well as perform additional qualitative research on promising practices that have emerged from the assessment data.

The Successful Middle School Research Project is supported by member donations to the AMLE Foundation Fund. Learn more about the AMLE Foundation Fund.