Middle schools are "the weakest link"

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown has staked out middle school reform as his turf. Today he convened a "roundtable" style public hearing to learn more about what's going wrong in the middle grades -- 6, 7 and 8 -- and what can be done to turn them around.

DC Action Executive Director HyeSook Chung testified that the middle grades are the "weak link" in D.C., where too many students fall through the cracks. More than half of all D.C. students who drop out of school do so in the ninth grade. We need to make sure we are catching students early, before they are "teetering on the ninth-grade cliff."

Middle school is a critical transition not only for the dropout problem, but also for preparing students for success in high school and hopefully college. But by and large, D.C.'s students are woefully unprepared. Only 58.4 percent of eighth graders scored proficient or above in math, and only 49.6 percent scored proficient or above in reading on the 2011 DC CAS. And that's grading them on a curve! Through our research, we learned that "proficient" on the DC CAS actually equates to "below" basic on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test.

Read our testimony here. We are also working on an issue brief that takes a more in-depth look at what's going on inside D.C. middle schools -- including declining enrollment -- and what D.C. can do about it.