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Middle School Essential Elements

Essential Elements of Standards-Focused

Middle-Level Schools and Programs
(Revised 2003)

 developed by:

The New York State Education Department’s

Middle-Level Education Program
in collaboration with
The New York State Middle School Association
The Statewide Network of Middle-Level Education Liaisons
The New York City Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform


The standards-focused middle level school or program is purposeful. It has two basic goals: The intellectual development and academic achievement of all students, and the personal and social development of each student.

In a standards-focused middle-level school or program these two goals are not in conflict or competition; rather, they are compatible, complementary, mutually supportive, and inextricably linked.

The seven essential elements of standards-focused middle-level school programs are:

                 1.0         A philosophy and mission that reflect the intellectual and developmental needs and                                                                  characteristics of young adolescents (youth 10-14 years of age).

2.0         An educational program that is comprehensive, challenging, purposeful, integrated, relevant, and standards-based.

3.0         An organization and structure that support both academic excellence and personal development.

4.0         Classroom instruction appropriate to the needs and characteristics of young adolescents provided by skilled and knowledgeable teachers.

5.0         Strong educational leadership and a building administration that encourage, facilitate, and sustain involvement, participation, and partnerships.

6.0         A network of academic and personal support available for all students.

7.0         Professional learning and staff development for all staff that are ongoing, planned, purposeful, and collaboratively developed.

Essential Element 1: Philosophy and Mission

A philosophy and mission that reflect the intellectual and developmental needs and characteristics of young adolescents (youth 10-14 years of age).

Every young adolescent deserves a school that values academic achievement and personal development and provides a supportive environment…..

The middle-level educational program has a purpose beyond linking the elementary grades and the high school. Its basic aims are to educate and nurture. It has a culture of collective and shared responsibility. To be successful, it must attend to both the intellectual development and the personal needs of young adolescents. The philosophy and mission of a standards-focused middle-level school or program must reflect a set of shared beliefs. 

The school and staff within the school must commit to:

1.1       Developing the whole child, intellectually and academically, personally and socially, physically, emotionally, and ethically.

1.2       Working together to ensure that all students achieve at high levels and, with appropriate guidance and structure, develop independence and responsibility.

1.3       Accepting - individually and collectively - responsibility for the educational and personal development of each and every student.

                1.4       Ensuring for each student a safe, inviting, trusting, and mutually-respectful learning environment that offers both physical and psychological safety.

1.5       Connecting each young adolescent in positive ways with the school and with caring adults within the school.

1.6       Providing each student with a variety of learning experiences that are academically challenging, developmentally appropriate, and personally relevant in order for each of them to make informed educational and personal decisions.

1.7       Providing a successful transition from the elementary grades to the middle grades to the high school grades and from childhood to adolescence.

                1.8       Establishing partnerships with the home and the community.

Essential Element 2: Educational Program

An educational program that is comprehensive, challenging, purposeful, integrated, relevant, and standards-based. 

Every young adolescent needs a challenging, standards-based course of study that is comprehensive, integrated, and relevant.

 A standards-focused middle-level educational program: 

2.1       Emphasizes not only intellectual development but also personal, social, physical, and ethical development.

                2.2       Is challenging, rigorous, and purposeful.

2.3       Is comprehensive and inclusive, embracing and encompassing all of the State's 28 learning standards.

2.4       Reflects interdependence, emphasizes cross-program connections, and promotes shared responsibility.

2.5       Is articulated vertically and horizontally, within and across the various curricular areas, learning standards, and grade levels.

2.6       Has a set of learning skills (e.g., how to study, how to conduct research, how to read for understanding, how to take notes, etc.) that are common across all grades and subject areas and taught and reinforced in each grade and subject area.

2.7       Emphasizes reading, writing, and mathematics (literacy and numeracy) across the subject areas with expectations for performance that are consistent across and within the disciplines and commonly understood by teachers, students, and parents.

2.8       Has performance expectations that are common across all grades and subject areas (e.g., students must write in complete sentences).

2.9       Is articulated with the elementary feeder schools and with the secondary receiving schools, building on the foundational knowledge and skills of the elementary grades and, in doing so, preparing students for success in high school.

2.10    Has up-to-date written curricula (that are based on and aligned with the State's learning standards), instructional support, and learning aids for all subject areas.

2.11    Includes diagnostic assessments (similar in design to the State's assessments) that regularly and routinely monitor the learning of each student relative to the State's standards and community expectations.

2.12    Offers opportunities for the development of personal responsibility and self direction.

2.13    Encourages students to pursue personal interests, engage in school and community activities (e.g., sports, clubs, etc.), explore potential futures and careers, develop useful social, interpersonal, and life skills needed to live a full and productive life, and nurture a “love of learning.”

2.14    Provides targeted and timely academic intervention services that are based upon a careful assessment of the academic, social, and emotional needs of students at risk of not meeting the State’s learning standards.

2.15    Engages and involves the family, local community, and the world outside school in the education and personal development of young adolescents.

Essential Element 3: Organization and Structure

An organization and structure that support both academic excellence and personal development.
Young adolescents learn and develop best in a school that is organized and structured to promote academic achievement and personal development.


Standards-focused schools with middle-level grades are organized to promote academic excellence and personal development, to establish within staff and students a feeling of belonging and a sense of personal identification with the school and its purposes, and to help young adolescents make a successful transition from the elementary grades to the high school grades and from childhood to adolescence.

A standards-focused school that enrolls young adolescents should:


3.1       Have teacher teams sharing responsibility for the education and personal development of a common group of students.

3.2       Have common planning time for those teachers and teacher teams sharing responsibility for a common group of students.

3.3       Have schedules with flexible time assignments within blocks of time to encourage interdisciplinary programs and the creative use of time.

3.4       Contain at least three of the four middle grades (the four middle grades being grades 5, 6, 7, and 8).

3.5       Have comparatively small enrollments so that every student is viewed as an individual and receives personal attention. When the school population is large, have "houses" or schools-within-schools to promote a sense of family, to reduce the feeling of anonymity and isolation among students, and to engender within staff, students, and the community a feeling of belonging and personal identification with the school and with its purposes.

3.6       Be structured to create close, sustained relationships between students and teachers.

3.7       Ensure that all students, staff, parents, and families feel secure, valued and respected as significant contributors to the school community.

3.8       Provide, for those students needing additional help to meet the State's standards, opportunities for additional time, instruction, and personal support (e.g., after school, before school, summer school, reduced class size, tutoring, pupil personnel services, etc.).

                3.9       Provide a variety of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.

3.10    Provide opportunities for students to participate in youth service, community service and/or service learning activities.

                3.11    Encourage active parent involvement through a variety of activities.

3.12    Establish ties with the school community that strengthen connections between school/education and career opportunities.

3.13    Promote and encourage appropriate participation of pupils with disabilities in all curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities.

3.14    Have students with disabilities or other special needs, as well as their programs and services, integrated throughout the school building to ensure access to the same instruction as their peers.

3.15    Provide support services such as guidance, counseling, and health-related services to all students.

3.16    Integrate technology into the educational program so that it supports student learning in a purposeful way.

3.17    Provide a gradual transition from the more self-contained classrooms of the elementary school to the more departmentalized structure of the high school, providing students with opportunities for increasingly independent learning experiences and responsibilities within a safe and structured environment.


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