The Best Middle Schools in the U.S.

by TBS Staff
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This ranking of the best middle schools in the United States focuses on grades 7 and 8. By a "middle school" we mean a school that includes those grades. Because regions (states, districts, etc.) set their own standards, in some places grades 7 and 8 may be combined with the high school, while in others they may be found together with elementary grades. Another alternative has been to place 7th and 8th grades in a separate school by themselves or together with 6th grade (these are usually called "middle schools" or less frequently now "junior high schools").

Whatever the combination, the schools in this ranking have both 7th and 8th grade housed together within the same building (which is nearly always the case). Where 7th and 8th graders were housed with other grades, achievement scores for the 7th and 8th graders were evaluated individually, rather than for the school as a whole. The schools in this ranking have found a way to provide 7th and 8th graders with a rich school experience that prepares them superbly well for high school, college, and life.

Recent research indicates that it is beneficial to put 7th and 8th graders together with the elementary grades, creating a single school for K through 8. There are significant studies which show that junior high/middle school students perform better when educated in a K through 8 setting. However, in large urban or suburban areas this option may create space, staffing, and safety issues. For this reason, it is not always feasible to make one school for nine grades.

The Best Middle Schools in the U.S.

1. Community Day Charter School

Community Day Charter was founded in 1995 and was one of the first charter schools in Massachusetts. It began with grades K--3 and added a grade every year thereafter until it had all grades K--8.

Teachers work together in teams to identify areas of weakness and formulate action plans for students who are not succeeding as well as they should. All students are given the opportunity to succeed with school support and the belief that all students are capable of meeting the demands of challenging standards.

An extended day and extended year is offered to students who wish to develop their skills or participate in extracurricular activities.

Awards and Rankings:

2. Stowe Middle School

(Stowe, VT)

Stowe Middle School is a school for grades 6--8. The program at Stowe is rigorous, but the school recognizes the importance of more than just academics. All students are required to perform four hours of community service and many perform more service than is required. Personalized classes are provided so that students can build relationships with other students, as well as staff and faculty.

An online free library is provided to all students in addition to the regular library, which has a website that assists students in finding books that they will enjoy and to keep them updated on what is new and what is popular. The school also prepares a newsletter that gives suggestions to parents on things they can do to help their children to be successful both socially and academically.

Each grade in middle school is separated into teams so that students on the same team share the same teachers. Likewise, teachers on a team share the same students. There is a math, social studies, and science teacher for each team, and each teacher also teaches language arts across the curriculum.

Electives include life skills, band, choir, art, Technology Design Education, and Family and Consumer Sciences Education (FACS). A theater group performs plays and musicals and the school hosts informative seminars on drug awareness and prevention tips for parents on subjects like Abduction and Harm.

Friday wellness classes allow students to participate in snowboarding, snowshoeing, skiing, swimming, and skating. Team sports include field hockey, soccer, track, and cross country skiing.

Awards and Rankings:

3. Minnesota Math and Science Academy

(Woodbury, MN)

Grades 6--12 are taught at the Minnesota Math and Science Academy, a charter school offering an intensive program in math and science, as well as courses in the arts, humanities, and foreign languages.

Students are expected to pursue their studies diligently, and although the school is tuition-free, students do have to apply to be accepted and space is limited.

If there are more applications than openings, a lottery is held. Those not acquiring a place can be put on a waiting list. Students and parents are encouraged to volunteer at the school.

Extracurricular activities include Nordic skiing, Clay Target League (students must have a Firearms Safety Certificate), FIRST Robotics, and Lego Robotics, as well as other athletic, artistic, and academic activities.

Awards and Rankings:

4. Lincoln Akerman School

(Hampton Falls, NH)

Grades K--8 are taught at Lincoln Akerman School, with an enrollment of 160 students in all grades 1 through 8.

All students attend art classes at least once a week and build an art portfolio which they take with them when they graduate from the 8th grade. All middle school students also take health classes in which they learn about nutrition, along with other age-appropriate topics, to build a foundation in health that will serve them throughout their lives.

Middle school physical education has an emphasis on fun and participation, with games such as speedball, pilo polo, spyball, team hand ball, and other sports fundamental to physical development.

The guidance curriculum for grades 6--8 emphasizes life skills, dealing with bullying and harassment, respect, advocating for others as well as oneself, stress management, and conflict resolution, among other age-appropriate topics. The content is based on the SAU #21 Guidance/Life Skills Curriculum.

Awards and Rankings:

5. Challenge Magnet School-Cherry Creek School District No. 5

(Denver, CO)

A K--8 school, the Challenge School is one of the magnet schools belonging to the celebrated Cherry Creek School District No. 5, located in the greater Denver area.

Students have some classes (called Connections classes) that are based on needs and not on age or grade. Multi-age groups appear in Connections classes, Mini-courses, and immersion classes. Mini-courses are for enrichment and allow students to pursue their personal interests, though sometimes students may also be assigned to Mini-courses for remediation. In Connections classes, students are graded on the pass/fail system, but in Mini-courses, students in grades 3 through 8 receive a letter grade that counts towards the student's GPA. Courses last about six weeks and meet during the last period of the day.

Students must apply to attend the Challenge School and all students in grades 5 through 8 are required to put in hours of community service, which must be completed before the end of the second trimester. All 7th and 8th graders must also participate in a shadowing exercise (one per year) with a professional at the Challenge school or a professional at the high school the student plans to attend. Shadowing experiences allow students to have contact with a professional in an area of interest the student shares to clarify questions, gather information, and experience the professional side of the subject.

Awards and Rankings:

6. Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva

(Edison, NJ)

When it comes to performance in science, math, and reading, New Jersey---with its many fine public and private schools---consistently ranks in the top 10 nationally. Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY) is one of the reasons why. It is a K--8 Orthodox Jewish private school which teaches Judaism and Jewish history, but also follows the New Jersey guidelines for academics.

Unlike some private schools which only cater to above-average students, RPRY has students at all learning levels. Accordingly, they have partnered with HiddenSparks.org to train and prepare teachers to teach students of all learning types, from remedial to advanced.

The middle school has extracurricular programs for students with religious, social, academic, and athletic interests, preparing students for success in life. Additionally RPRY has on-line courses for distance learning.

Awards and Rankings:

7. North Star Middle School

(Kirkland, WA)

North Star Middle School serves students in grades 7--9. It is a "choice" school, one of 13 in the Lake Washington School District. Choice schools and programs are optional schooling alternatives and are often housed within an existing school. Class sizes are smaller and students are placed in programs based upon skill level rather than age and grade. Students experience education through a variety of projects and learning tools, including home-school partnerships, vocational programs, and theme-based learning.

Except for math, North Star students choose their courses to fulfill the required number of credits for each discipline, so that students are taking an in-depth course on something of interest to them instead of a survey course which lightly touches on a broad range of topics. It is much like a college curriculum.

Some examples of courses offered are Forensic Science, Genetics, Treehouse of Horror (horror literature), and Bring Out Your Dead (a history of infectious diseases.)

Awards and Rankings:

8. Middlesex Middle School

(Darien, CT)

Middlesex Middle School serves grades 6 through 8. Students follow a typical curriculum, but in addition have an orchestra class, as well as band and choir. Students may try out for various musical ensemble groups, including a jazz ensemble and a string ensemble.

To encourage students' critical thinking skills, an IDEA (Interesting Dimensions that Extend Abilities) course is taken by each grade. These classes, which are for intellectually gifted students and use the seminar approach, meet during lunch period twice a week. Examples of subjects studied include the phenomenon of time (7th graders) and the works of philosophers such as Plato and Machiavelli (8th graders).

Students study keyboarding, computer skills, and technology classes; they are also required to take a physical education class. Additionally, students in 7th and 8th grade take a Family Studies course focusing on healthy living.

Awards and Rankings:

9. Harmon Middle School

Harmon Middle School serves 705 students in grades 6 though 8. The Harmon athletic department offers participation in 20 sports plus cheerleading.

Harmon has a P.R.I.D.E. program for students to evaluate their effort and citizenship. These forms are due two weeks after report cards are distributed. Students must get verification of one hour of community service, volunteering to help a faculty member, and completing all assignments, as well as other personal academic achievements.

The Harmon School District has been rated by the State Board of Education as a district of excellence for the past 12 years.

Awards and Rankings:

10. Falmouth Middle School

(Falmouth, ME)

Falmouth Middle School is a public school serving almost 700 5th through 8th graders.

Falmouth offers a curriculum in social studies, world languages, English/language arts, and math. Additionally, students may take health, a variety of music classes, art, and physical education.

Swimming, lacrosse, hockey, football, and volleyball are just some of the team sports in which students can participate in athletics. For after-school fun, students can sign up for sledding, snow shoeing, Nordic skiing, snow sculpture, ping pong, and relay races, among other activities.

Awards and Rankings:

Methodology

For this study, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results in science, math, and reading for 8th graders were used as a principal (but not the sole) basis for comparison of schools. The NAEP administers the same test nationally so that one standard is applied to each student no matter which state they live in.

In the case of other common standardized test assessments, each state creates and administers its own tests, which makes cross-state comparisons difficult. That is the reason why we emphasize the NAEP. However, state assessment scores were also examined, where available, and weighed together with the NAEP scores.

Finally, other factors such as awards and rankings and geographical diversity were also taken into account.

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