Ericka Uskali: Creating Excellent, Socially Equitable Schools for Young Adolescents

Ericka Uskali: Creating Excellent, Socially Equitable Schools for Young Adolescents

Originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of AC&E/Equity & Access

The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform is an alliance of educators, researchers, national associations, and officers of professional organizations and foundations committed to promoting academic performance and healthy development of young adolescents.

In order to prepare students to be lifelong learners ready for college, career, and citizenship, the National Forum seeks to make every middle-grade school academically excellent, responsive to the developmental needs and interests of young adolescents, and socially equitable.

To accomplish its goal of improved academic and developmental outcomes for all students in the middle grades, the Forum identifies and disseminates best practices, articulates and promotes effective policies, recognizes and develops enlightened leadership, and informs and engages the public.

The National Forum, through its Schools to Watch® (STW) program, has developed criteria for identifying high-performing middle-grades schools, created tools to help schools use the criteria, expanded the program to 17 states and internationally, and selected and honored hundreds of successful schools as STW schools.

At the heart of the vision of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform are equity and accessibility for all students, no matter their background, skin color, family income, abilities, etc. However, we recognize that this is a continuous battle that we must valiantly fight.

All students deserve the very best education and opportunities that we can provide. With that in mind, the National Forum believes that it is imperative to engage in the following:

  1. Focus increased attention and resources on middle-grades schools, especially those schools with large populations of low-performing students and traditionally under-served student groups.
  2. Ensure that all students have access to a rigorous curriculum that enables them to remain on track for college/career readiness.
  3. Support students socially, emotionally, and academically to meet the demands of rigorous coursework.
  4. Require the use of evidence-based practices that show promise for improving both teaching and student learning.
  5. Support professional development programs that push educators to not only utilize new and engaging strategies, but also provides opportunities for them to dialogue with one another, spurring them to continuous improvement as professionals.
  6. Create and support policies that encourage highly qualified teachers to work with those schools and students that are most in need.
  7. Require the use of a wide variety of assessments throughout the school year to monitor student progress and allow for appropriate interventions as needed.
  8. Ensure that districts and schools adopt open and fair student assignment practices rather than rigid tracking.
  9. Create and support policies and programs that prevent bullying, violence, and other forms of negative behavior.

The middle-grades are a pivotal point in students’ lives and we know that there is no greater time of growth in life that compares to the period known as young adolescence, except birth to four. This means that we must be willing to find ways to put the needs of our middle-grades students at the top of our priorities as a nation.

The National Forum believes that by concentrating policies, resources, and efforts at the middle grades, we will be able to promote greater gains and reduce achievement gaps and ensure that our students are well prepared for high school and beyond. This investment in the middle-grades will, in turn, reduce dropout rates, increase access to and success in postsecondary education, and ultimately result in a more productive workforce, more responsible citizens, and greater international competitiveness.

The National Forum stands behind the need for high-performing middle-grades schools that meet the needs of ALL learners to become the norm, not the exception.


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