Photo illustration from the New York Times Economix blog

A recent Harvard study highlights the negative impact that the transition from elementary to middle school can have on student achievement — and suggests that this transition is more important than the move from middle to high school.

According to a story posted the Education Week web site: “That to me is a really robust finding,” said David L. Hough, the managing editor of the Middle Grades Research Journal and a dean emeritus of Missouri State University’s college of education, in Springfield. “All these people are focusing on the transition to high school; it looks to me like they need to be focusing on that transition to middle school.”

The 2011 Harvard study, done in Florida, matches the results from a similar study done in New York City in 2010 that highlights the negative impact that MS transition can have on student test scores. 

This interesting finding comes on the heels of another recent Harvard study that took a new look at the academic impact of class size, going all the way back to Kindergarten. Covered in a provocatively headlined New York Times article — The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers — the researches studied the lifetime earnings impact of small class sizes and good teachers.

The basis for the new Harvard study was a well-regarded class-size study done in Tennessee called STAR that determined small class sizes (15-22 students) could increase student achievement by about three additional months a year.

For years, the knock on the STAR research was a perceived “fade effect” — meaning that test score gains tended to fade by high school. Using new research tools, the Harvard study examined the post-high school lives of the STAR kids to conclude that while test score gains may have faded there was something else going on that was even more important — quality of life. Through their analysis, the researches were able to conclude that students who had small class sizes and great teachers were more likely to go to college, less likely to become single parents, and saving more money for retirement. The bottom line finding was that these students were earning more.

Preparation for College. For Life.