Association of Grade Configuration With School Climate for 7th and 8th Grade Students

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Abstract

Educational authorities have questioned whether middle schools provide the best school climate for 7th and 8th grade students, and proposed that other grade configurations such as K–8th grade schools may provide a better learning environment. The purpose of this study was to compare 7th and 8th grade students’ perceptions of 4 key features of school climate (disciplinary structure, student support, student engagement, and prevalence of teasing and bullying) in middle schools versus elementary or high schools. Multilevel multivariate modeling in a statewide sample of 39,036 7th and 8th grade students attending 418 schools revealed that students attending middle schools had a more negative perception of school climate than students in schools with other grade configurations. Seventh grade students placed in middle schools reported lower disciplinary structure and a higher prevalence of teasing and bullying in comparison to those in elementary schools. Eighth grade students in middle schools reported poorer disciplinary structure, lower student engagement, and a higher prevalence of teasing and bullying compared to those in high schools. These findings can guide school psychologists in identifying aspects of school climate that may be troublesome for 7th and 8th grade students in schools with different grade configurations.

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