As its very name suggests, middle school is a transitional period, a time when students begin adjusting to new ways of learning and some of the more challenging material they’ll face in high school.

So what should parents of middle school children focus on?

Master algebra to move up to higher-level math

Colleges want students who have gone as far as they can in math—reaching classes like Trigonometry, or even Calculus and Statistics, by senior year of high school. To get there, students first have to master algebra, which is the foundation for everything else.

Hispanic teen and her mother working or browsing the web on a laptop computer isolated on whiteFor many adults, learning math seemed like mastering a series of unconnected subjects where algebra didn’t seem to have much relation to geometry or statistics. Up until recently, most California students have been taken a class called “Algebra 1” in either eighth or ninth grade. The new Common Core standards try to better integrate concepts across grades so that they build on each other. Under the standards, the skills and concepts of algebra are now spread across both eighth and ninth grade. Different school districts name classes differently so check with your local schools to see the progression of classes. Unfortunately, students who fail algebra once often fail it again when they retake it. As a parent, make sure your child is placed into a challenging class that they are ready for and that they’re supported throughout the year to master higher-level math. This is an important transition to higher level math. It’s not enough to pass the class. What’s important is truly mastering the concepts of algebra.

Start planning for high school course selection

Particularly in math, the classes that students take in 8th and 9th grade may determine what classes they take for the rest of high school. It’s important to have conversations with your counselor and teacher about what classes your child needs to take to be college ready by the end of high school. See our separate post on completing a college-preparatory curriculum.

Explore your options

Find out if are various options your student can choose for high school— charter public schools, magnet schools, or schools with programs focusing on the arts or sciences. Once you know your options, research them, and be sure that your child is attending a school where he will flourish. Students often have strong opinions about where they want to go to high school, wanting to stay with their friends and looking at sports and extracurricular programs. As a parent, you have an important role to play in looking at the academic performance of the school and balancing it against other factors. Some research indicates that the academic performance of the school students attend may be particularly important at the high school level.

Be at grade-level by the start of high school

High school is a lot more challenging and students have a full course load with little time to play catch-up. Work hard to stay on track in middle school so you’ll be ready from day 1!

One Key Thing: Don’t miss school!
Research shows two things about middle school and attendance:

  1. Middle school is a time when students often start to miss a lot more school.
  2. For students who have good attendance records in middle school, the chances of success in high school and college are much better. Along with grades (GPA), middle school attendance is the best predictor of students’ continued success. Finally, for students who had low attendance in elementary school, improving attendance in middle school has significant, positive effects.

Bottom line: Show up on time and ready to learn every day!

How are Silicon Valley Schools Doing on Getting Students Ready for Higher Level Math?

Across the Bay Area, only 58% of students overall and 39% of Latino students were proficient in math by the end of 7th grade, as of 2012-13, the last year for which state data are available.


Resources to Learn More

Middle school is also, notoriously, a time when students enter adolescence, with all its attendant milestones and challenges. It can be a difficult time for both students and their parents.

GreatSchools: What to Expect When Expecting a Middle Schooler

GreatSchools: How to research high schools

Innovate Public Schools

We are a nonprofit organization focused on ensuring that all students in California, including low-income students and students of color, receive an excellent education.

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