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This past weekend my wife and I spent time reviewing the academic accomplishments and second semester goals with both of our middle school children. Each discussion lasted about 40 minutes, where our kids reviewed content or projects from each subject area, showed us evidence of their learning, and then discussed what they liked and learned through the process. The meetings ended with a reflection for child and parents alike.

After these “student-led” conferences, I got to thinking about how far they have come from elementary school and just where they will be headed when they get to high school and beyond.

Take a minute and see if you can guess which of the following factor is the best predictor of success in college?

  • Family background (gender, socio-economic, race …)
  • 8th-grade achievement in core academic courses
  • High school coursework
  • High school GPA

According to a 2009 study by ACT, success in middle school is by far the highest predictor of later academic achievement. In other words, learning how to learn in early grades is fundamental for future success — no matter how many advantages you may have at birth or how good your high school may be.

Three factors that the study found that were closely linked to being on a solid academic track were: good work habits, orderly conduct, and positive relationships with school personnel.

Many people approach middle school as a holding tank … herd them into big groups and keep them out of sight until they mature a bit and are ready for the real work of high school. Unfortunately, as the ACT research shows, this approach is the exact opposite of what works for learning.

It was refreshing to hear my children talk intelligently about what they were doing in middle school, especially in light of these crucial findings.