Questions from Parents
- If I disagree or am upset about something that is occurring at the school my child attends, what should I do?
- We are moving to area XYZ and have children in elementary and middle school. What should we look for in a school?
- What are the required course of study and content standards for middle grade students?
- What academic standards should my child be proficient in for high school and the California High School Exit Examination?
- What are the required tests that my middle school child will need to take?
- Who establishes the grading policy for middle school students?
- If my child fails a class or is not proficient with certain standards, does the school have the right to retain my child in grade or prevent him/her from attending graduation?
- There is no graduation ceremony for eighth grade students at my child's school. Is there a state policy about this?
Questions from Educators, School Boards, and Parents
- If I disagree or am upset about a state policy that is affecting our district and school, what should I do?
- How many students and schools are there in the middle grades? How are schools configured? Are middle schools considered elementary or secondary?
- Should sixth grade be included in a middle school or an elementary school?
- What is the required amount of time (minutes per week) for each subject?
- Does our district have to adopt a standards-based report card?
- What is the middle school's responsibility for preparing students for the California High School Exit Examination?
- Is Algebra 1 a required course of study for all eighth grade students?
- Is there a professional network specifically for middle grades educators?
- What are some resources for us to look at when shaping policy, procedures, and curriculum for our middle school?
Access to the California Law Web site (Outside Source)
If I disagree or am upset about something that is occurring at the school my child attends, what should I do?
If you are concerned about something that has occurred at school, it is best to begin with your child's teacher.
- First, schedule an appointment with your child's
teacher, counselor (if multiple teachers are concerned), and/or
- Explain how the problem is having an effect on your child's success in school. Be prepared to explain what you will be able to do at home to provide support for your child
- Make sure your child understands her/his responsibility for school success. It is usually easier to come to an educationally sound and workable agreement if it is clear that you and your child are willing to work with the school.
- Keep written notes of dates, whom you spoke with, and what the next step(s) are. Often developing solutions to complex problems takes time and multiple steps.
- If the problem persists and cannot be resolved
at the school, contact the district and schedule an appointment
meeting with a district-level administrator (superintendent
or assistant superintendent) either by phone or in person.
- Before the meeting, organize your notes and write a coherent description of the situation, noting what was agreed to and what was not agreed to during your meeting with school personnel.
- Ask the district administrator to follow-up with a letter describing "next steps" and actions that the district proposes. Again, keep notes.
- If a change in local policy is required, you may have to work more closely with your School Site Council and your local governing Board of Education.
- If you are unhappy with the response you receive
from the district, ask the district for and use the district-adopted
Uniform Complaint Process (UCP) to make a formal complaint which
must be investigated by the district. The UCP is a legally sanctioned
process. A UCP brochure can be requested from the Categorical
Complaints Management Office of the Department of Education
916-319-0929 or visit the Web
The California Department of Education is your last course of action in solving a school-site problem. If you need to contact the California Department of Education, you will need to provide a written explanation of what has occurred and the steps you have taken at the school site, district office, and with the school board. The role of the California Department of Education is to implement (through guidelines and regulations adopted by the State Board of Education) and enforce laws passed by the California Legislature, not change or enforce a locally agreed-upon policy. It is always in your child's best interest to be involved with your child's school before problems arise. Your school and district are your partners in educating your child.
We are moving to area XYZ and have children in elementary and middle grades. What should we look for in a school?
- If you want to scan districts and schools by
county, start your search with the California
- Next, go to the California Department of Education's DataQuest and browse for any information about any of California's K-12 schools.
- Your last and most important stop should be
an actual visit to the school. Make an appointment with the
principal and ask for a tour including classroom visitation
and a copy of the school handbook and the School
Accountability Report Card (SARC). In addition to
the evaluation criteria outlined in the slide show above, specific
middle grade questions for the principal might be:
- How is the curriculum aligned to the state's standards in math, language arts, science and social science? Will my child have the opportunity to take Algebra and other electives? (Ask to review district adopted grade-level textbooks).
- Will students be prepared to successfully pass the California High School Exit Examination (based on grades 6 and 7 math standards)? How does the school measure a student's progress throughout the year?
- How is the school responsive to the needs of students
10-14 years of age? Areas of interest may include:
- school leadership opportunities,
- elective opportunities in
- foreign language
- visual and performing arts
- service learning
- career exploration
- special education programs for learning disabled and gifted
- extra-curricular before and after school programs
- assistance to struggling students and English Language Learners
- recognition and awards for attendance, effort,
citizenship, and achievement
- How are parents encouraged to volunteer at the school site and to become involved in school activities and governance?
What are the required course of study and content standards for California middle school students?
In addition to the mandated course of study for the middle grades, Taking Center Stage - A Commitment to Standards-based Education for California's Middle Grades Students (2001) recommends a challenging, integrative, and exploratory curriculum, with varied teaching and learning approaches; assessment and evaluation that promotes learning; flexible organizational structures; programs and policies that foster, a healthy lifestyle, safety, and wellness. Comprehensive guidance and support services are also critical to a high-quality successful middle school.
California Education Code Section 51220 requires that local school districts offer a course of study for grades 7 to 12. The adopted course of study for grades 7 to 12, inclusive, shall offer courses in the following areas of study:
- English, including literature, language, composition and the skills of reading, listening, and speaking.
- Social sciences including anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, sociology, history, and government of California and the United States of America; American legal system and the state and federal constitutions; American economic system, eastern and western cultures and civilizations; human rights issues (i.e. genocide, slavery, and the Holocaust), and contemporary issues.
- Foreign language or languages, understanding, speaking, reading, and writing the particular language.
- Physical education, with emphasis given to physical activities conducive to health and to vigor of body and mind, as required by Section 51222.
- Science, physical and biological, scientific investigation, humans in ecological systems, interrelation and interdependence of the sciences.
- Mathematics, designed to develop mathematical understandings, operational skills, and insight into problem-solving procedures.
- Visual and performing arts, including dance, music, theater, and visual arts.
- Applied arts, consumer education, homemaking education, business education, and agriculture.
- Vocational, technical, career education for employment preparation.
- Automobile, driver education.
- Other studies as may be prescribed by the governing board.
Content Standards for Middle Grades
There are content standards for many of the required courses for middle level students.
Content standards have been approved by the California State Board of Education.
What academic standards should my child be proficient in for high school and the California High School Exit Examination?
- California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) assesses student proficiency in mathematics (primarily standards for grades 6, 7, and 8) and English language arts (standards for grades 9-10) at the present time. In the CAHSEE Teacher's Guide for each subject there are sample questions and a blueprint of grade-level standards that are tested.
- If your child has special needs because of learning and physical disabilities, the CAHSEE is administered with accommodations to these students.
- Being successful in high school and beyond requires a broader proficiency of California's content standards than those covered on the CAHSEE. Middle school students should not only be proficient in math and English-language arts, but the other core academic subjects of science and social science/history as well. The core subjects and rigorous critical thinking related to these disciplines prepare students for the work they will be required to do in high school and for both college and career.
What are the required state tests that my middle school child will need to take?
All of California's students (grades 2-11) are required to take the spring administration of the state mandated test called STAR in mathematics and English language arts.
The STAR test is in English only and has two parts, a norm-referenced section (California Achievement Tests - CAT/6 Survey) so that scores can be compared nationally and a standards-referenced section (California Standards Test - CST) so that individual student achievement of California's Content Standards can be measured.
- In addition to the CAT/6 and the CST in English
Language arts and mathematics for all middle-grade students,
students will be tested with the CST in the following subject
- fifth graders - science (based on science standards from grades 4 and 5)
- seventh graders - writing assessment
- eighth graders - history/social science (based on history standards from grades 6,7, and 8)
- fifth, seventh, and ninth graders are required to participate
in a physical
- Non-English proficient students are assessed annually with the California English Language Development Test (CELDT)
Who establishes the grading policy for middle school students?
Grading is an attempt to determine a student's level of mastery of particular content. Grading policies are established by the local district governing board and vary somewhat throughout the state. Most board policies are general and consistent with the intent of the law. Specific classroom guidelines are sometimes left to the individual school and/or teacher. On the other hand, some school board grading policies are highly prescriptive.
When teaching to the standards, a student's grades in a particular subject area should be based on her/his performance in meeting the state standards. Traditional grades alone are limited and often subjective measures of student progress. They are not adequate for providing specific feedback to students about standards proficiency or making high-stakes decisions regarding retention, promotion, and targeted interventions. As schools implement state content standards, a standards-based performance report will keep students and parents better informed about student progress at school.
If my child fails a class or is not proficient with certain standards, does the school have the right to retain my child in grade or prevent him/her from attending graduation?
Since 1998 local school district governing boards have been directed by Education Code Section 48070 to develop promotion and retention policies that require students to demonstrate basic proficiency in certain subjects and certain grades before they can progress to the next grade.
- School districts must identify as early as possible students who may be at risk of failure and to provide effective interventions so that no student will remain in grade. Some early interventions may include summer school, before and after-school tutorials, Saturday or other interim remediation sessions.
- Before retention can occur the school will need to carefully evaluate the following: a) the results of assessments; b) pupil's grades and other indicators of academic achievement identified by the district; c) available options for remediation;
- Parents must be notified, and in consultation with the teacher(s) and principal, before any final determination regarding retention can be made. The law further stipulates that pupils shall be retained unless retention is "not the appropriate intervention" or if the student demonstrates proficiency in a remedial program. Parents who actively support their child's learning, and work hand-in-hand with the school will not be surprised by notification that the school is considering retention.
- If a student must be retained, he or she must not be subjected to a mere repetition of what previously failed but must be provided with a different instructional experience focused on the student's specific identified needs.
- A student's ability to participate in promotional exercises (graduation) is typically dependent upon her/his success in demonstrating grade level proficiency. The local pupil promotion/retention policy, consistent with the intent of the law, will dictate participation in end of school activities including promotional exercises.
A process must be in place to appeal the decision to retain a student. If an appeal is made, the burden shall be on the appealing party to show why the decision should be overruled.
There is no graduation ceremony for eighth grade students at my child's school. Is there a state policy about this?
Because a free public school education is not considered finished until completion of grade twelve, it is somewhat of a misnomer to call proficiency in eighth grade standards "graduation." From middle grades, students are ready to begin ninth grade in a high school. Since these young teens are completing a critical phase of adolescence, it is important, and not uncommon in California, to acknowledge this "rite-of-passage" with "promotional exercises" into high school.
A special district-sponsored public ceremony, awards assembly, family and/or community activity, is not specified by law. Such activity is at the discretion of the local school board. There are some districts that choose not to have a special ceremony for students who have completed eighth grade. In some of those districts, volunteer parents and community organizations have developed their own recognition activities.
- If I disagree or am upset about
a state policy that is affecting our district and school, what
should I do?
Sometimes by the time a state education policy or law has reached teachers in the classroom, it has been interpreted and refined for application by a district and school. For your clarification, be sure you research the state legislation, policy, or education code so that you can appropriately direct your concern to the correct policy making body (local school board, county school board, state school board).
The State Board of Education (SBE) determines policy independently and as directed by state and federal legislation. The board meets monthly and there is an opportunity for public input as well as communication with board members. Minutes from past meetings are online.
Because California's educational policy is being increasingly driven by legislation, educators are encouraged to become proactive, as individuals and as a part of a group through their professional organizations, to propose and shape bills before they are signed into law.
You are always welcome to contact the California Department of Education with your concerns, questions, and input.
However, advocacy for a change to policy and law is best directed to the State Board of Education 916-319-0827; State Superintendent of Instruction Jack O'Connell, 1430 N Street, Sacramento, CA 95814; Governor's Office (Outside Source); or State Legislature (Outside Source).
How many students and schools are there in the middle grades? How are schools configured? Are they elementary or secondary schools?
California serves approximately 1.47 million middle-grade students in 2,097 schools (2004). These schools come in a wide variety of grade configurations and are sometimes identified as elementary and sometimes as secondary schools. Schools that have a minimum of two or more grades of 6, 7, 8 grade students are configured as follows:
|Grade Level||Number of Schools||Percentage|
|Grade Level||Number of Schools||Percentage|
|Grade Level||Number of Schools||Percentage|
All Other Grades and Total Number of Schools
|Grade Levels||Number of Schools||Percentage|
Total All grades
This information and other interesting facts about
California Education can be found in the Fact
Middle schools, most of which were categorized as junior high schools, nearly two decades ago were modeled after high schools and considered a part of the secondary education system. Research indicated that young adolescents between the ages of 10-14 years of age needed a school to be more responsive to the developmental needs of this age group.
The elementary model with a single teacher per class provided both a closer connection to a caring adult and the opportunity to teach concepts coherently across the curriculum. The jump from the elementary environment to a secondary departmentalized environment was too dramatic of a change for these youngsters who were already grappling with tremendous physical, emotional, and social changes of adolescence.
While there is no definition of a middle school in the education code, the middle school model (usually two or more of grades 6, 7, and 8) is often a hybrid of both elementary and secondary with the goal of providing a developmentally responsive, learning enhanced environment for the young adolescent population. Efficacy for the middle school model is supported nationally through ongoing research.
The lines, however, between elementary and secondary are now blurred which can be confusing to educators as well as to the public. Middle school teachers collectively hold an assortment of credentials for multiple and single subjects. California generally thinks of its middle school students as "elementary," but will in some instances categorize them as secondary. The federal government generally categorizes grades 7-8 as "secondary."
Should sixth grade be included in a middle school or an elementary school?
More than 40 years of research by the National Middle School Association (Outside Source) reports that developmentally, students in grades 6, 7 and 8 have more in common in terms of physical, psychological, social and intellectual development than do those in other age-grade combinations. Fifth grade students typically have not yet crossed the threshold of early adolescence. These student's developmental readiness is more closely linked with students in grade four. Ninth grade students tend to identify emotionally and intellectually with students in grades 10-12.
Grouping students by stages of development should not be the end-result, but the foundation of an educational program that is student-centered and meets the needs of this young adolescent population. Middle schools focus on this age group. High performing middle schools develop a program responsive to the needs of these students. A three year middle school program allows students enough time to develop a connection to a school and a group of caring adults to help them transition through a difficult period of human development.
A K-8 elementary school may differentiate its program for its older student population because there are three grade-levels. The school may have been built with the differentiated needs in mind (gymnasium, performing arts, specialized classrooms for electives and laboratories). A K-8 also eliminates the necessity of a transition to another school.
A K-6 school may or may not recognize the developmental changes of a sixth grade student in its schedule and program. The transfer to a two-year middle school of 7-8 graders can be a difficult transition for students and parents who may never develop a sense of belonging and involvement.
There are powerful local constraints (facilities, class-size reduction, availability of qualified teaching staff, numbers of students to be served, transportation, etc.) which may support or preclude a sixth through eighth grade combination.
What is the required amount of time (minutes per week) for each subject?
The number of course minutes is determined by each local school board. There are 54,000 instructional minutes per year for each grade 4 through 8 as referenced in the California Education Code Section 46201(a)(3)(c).
Required by law:
- The State of California has no hourly requirements for course work, other than for Physical Education.
- If the school is in a K-12 unified or elementary school district, the Ed Code 51210(g) requirement of 200 minutes every 10 days applies.
- If the school is in a secondary/high school district, the Education Code 51222(a) requirement of 400 minutes every 10 days applies.
Recommended by State Board of Education:
- The Reading/Language Arts Framework (PDF; 6.8MB; 370pp.) for California Public Schools, page 13, recommends 2.5 hours of language arts instruction for primary level, 2 hours for grades 4-8, and 9-12 and one language arts course per semester for grades 9-12. Students with special learning needs should receive this time and more.
- The Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools, Chapter 1 page 9, recommends an effective mathematics program which allocates 50-60 minutes a day for all students, not including homework. It is not just the time, but also how the time is utilized with students as active participants and engaged in critical thinking that counts. The State Board of Education recommends that algebra be taught in grade 8.
- The Science Framework (PDF; 538KB; 61pp.). "There is no begrudging of the extended time needed for students to master reading, writing and mathematics, for these are fundamental skills necessary for science. Even with the aforementioned curricular demands, it is imperative that the science standards be taught comprehensively during the elementary grades. This is a challenge that can be met with careful planning and implementation." Since July 1, 2003, fifth grade students have been taking a California Standards Test in Science. In 2004, these scores will be incorporated into the school's Academic Performance Index (API) baseline.
- The History/Social
Science Framework (PDF; 5MB; 249pp.) does not make a time allocation recommendation; however, if
the grade-level standards are to be taught, regular instruction
on a daily and weekly basis must occur. Beginning in 2003, eighth
grade students will be taking a California Standards Test in
History/Social Science. In 2004, these scores will be incorporated
into the school's Academic Performance Index (API) baseline.
Middle Schools with both fifth and eighth graders will have
two new API components adjusting their baseline in 2004.
See The Academic Performance Index (API): A Six-Year Plan for Development (2001-2006) (PDF; 742KB; 73pp.).
For middle schools to be successful in teaching grade-level standards and for students to become proficient in these standards, it is imperative that incoming students from the elementary level are adequately prepared in all core academic disciplines. Articulation with feeder elementary schools is critical. The teaching of science and history/social science should not be the sole responsibility of fifth and eighth grade teachers, as these are cumulative knowledge tests. Students will be tested again in these disciplines in high school.
Does our district have to adopt a standards-based report card?
There is no state requirement for districts and schools to adopt a standards-based report card; however, many school districts are moving voluntarily in this direction because it provides a better alignment to standards proficiency and to state performance levels. A standards-based school has clear expectations of what standards are taught and to what degree students have achieved proficiency. It makes sense to report student progress relative to standards, but it is not an easy issue and will take considerable discussion and collaboration for a school and district to move in this direction.
Establishing grading policies has always been up to the district, school, and classroom teacher. Classroom grades on assignments and reports cards generally do not reflect "pure" achievement, but incorporate other factors such as timeliness of assignment, neatness, effort, creativity, attendance, differing expectations and values of teachers, and sometimes behavior. As such, a course grade for students with similar standard proficiency will vary throughout a school, district and certainly across the state for students. This can be confusing to students, parents, and educators.
In the middle grades handbook Taking Center Stage: A Commitment to Standards-based Education for California's Middle Grades Students (pages 28-37) there is considerable discussion and guidance regarding grades vs. performance levels and a prototype standards-based report card.
What is the middle school's responsibility for preparing students for the California High School Exit Examination?
Each school is held accountable through the Academic Performance Index (API) for ensuring that California's students continue to grow and achieve. The API formula, originally based on a single norm-referenced test, is adding components of the California Standards Tests which reflect how well students are attaining proficiency of the California Content Standard in math and English language arts. Ethically, it is the responsibility of a school to prepare all of its students for success.
Since most of the standards on the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) in math are learned at the middle school level of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, and the English language arts standards in middle school are foundational to 9-10 grade-level standards, middle school preparation is critical to student achievement on the CAHSEE.
The CAHSEE legislation requires early identification of students at risk of failing the exit examination as early as seventh grade. It is chaptered into Education Code 37252(a):
"The governing board of each district maintaining any or all of grades 7 to 12, inclusive, shall offer, and a charter school may offer, supplemental instructional programs for pupils enrolled in grades 7 to 12, who do not demonstrate sufficient progress toward passing the exit examination required for high school graduation."
Sufficient progress is determined from the results of:
- assessments and minimum proficiency levels recommended by the State Board of Education OR
- pupil grades and other indicators of academic achievement.
Is Algebra I a required course of study for all eighth grade students?
No, Algebra I is not a requirement for all eighth grade students, but it is recommended. Students completing Algebra I in the eighth grade will have more options open to them in high school. Algebra I is a high school graduation requirement. If a student completes coursework that meets or exceeds the academic content standards for Algebra I prior to grade nine, then this Algebra I graduation requirement is met. However, if a student is not prepared to study algebra by the end of grade seven, it is not recommended to enroll him/her in an Algebra I course. It is imperative for students in grade eight or in high school to master pre-algebraic skills and concepts before they enroll in a course that meets or exceeds the rigor of the Algebra I SBE-adopted content standards. See Frequently Asked Questions for Algebra I.
Is there a professional network specifically for middle grades educators?
Yes! Established in 1987 by the California Department of Education, the California Middle Grades Partnership Network (CMGPN) provides ways for schools to work collegially and mentor one another in a risk-free environment to improve middle grades education and student achievement. It's an ongoing support network to new and veteran principals and teachers by principals and teachers.
"I couldn't have made it through my first two years without the support of other principals--especially my colleagues in the networks. I could never tell anyone in my own district that I didn't have all the answers. But in a network meeting, I could ask the "experts" and know that I was getting the best possible information and advice." CMGPN Principal, 2002
It has been established that middle grades, local partnership networks are a cost-effective, multi-school professional development activity. Over 320 middle schools in 26 local partnership networks, composed of low-performing to high-performing schools, are currently committed to:
- Leading reform initiatives that increase student learning and achievement in the middle grades;
- Implementing the sixteen recommendations from the California Department of Education's award winning publication Taking Center Stage: A Commitment to Standards-Based Education for California's Middle Grades Students, 2001;
- Exploring knowledge and research about young adolescent development and learning needs and the ways their unique characteristics can be leveraged to help all students meet high standards and increase academic achievement;
- Sharing and reflecting not only successes, but failures and common challenges;
- Connecting the research and practice needed to design and manage high quality middle schools;
- Supporting and mentoring school-to-school (as a middle-level institution and as individuals) to local partnership network schools.
- Taking Center Stage: A Commitment
to Standards-based Education for California Middle Grades Students
- Numerous resources within this document
- For better articulation with feeder and destination high schools:
- California Content
Standards and Curriculum
- Reading language arts
- History-Social Science
- Visual and Performing Arts
- English Language Development Standards (PDF; 851KB; 93pp.)
- Instructional Strategies