Local News

Older Students in Middle School Concern School Leaders

Posted February 26, 2008 7:04 p.m. EST

— Tougher state testing standards are a reason more students are being retained in middle school, Johnston County Schools' superintendent says.

In part, that has resulted in about 50 students who are 16 years old or older in the county's 10 middle schools.

And it's a concern for both parents and school leaders who say more needs to be done to help these students be promoted to high school.

Right now, there's no state age limit for grades, and school officials say they struggle with how to respond.

"What we've got to do is provide additional resources, if you will, and additional strategies to address the needs of the students," Superintendent Dr. Anthony Parker said.

Pushing failing students forward or holding them back can increase their chances of dropping out, education advocates say.

"We want to be proactive in our efforts to make sure that parents do (get involved) and the school system, as well, provide the resources so that children are not retained," said education advocate Calla Wright. "Because it does, indeed, have a negative impact."

Parker agrees. He says keeping students up to date with schoolwork is a big part of the solution.

"The key for us is looking at how we add time to the school year and how we add time to the school day to help these students," he said.

Johnston County is adding evening and summer programs for struggling students and might add more resources this spring.

Other school systems are facing the same challenge.

For example, Wake County Public Schools, which has 56 students who are 16 or older, is in its second year of a pilot program to address the issue.

The program, called Boosters, helps older eighth-graders get caught up so that when they get into ninth grade, they are at the same level academically.

At the school level, principals have flexibility in how they offer assistance to students.

Parents are also concerned about how older students might influence other students. A Duke University study shows there are more behavior problems among average-aged students when they're in class with the older ones.

"Why are they not being educated in a high-school setting?" one parent asked. ""Our concern is what type of influence will the older children have on the age-appropriate middle schoolers?"

She did not want to be identified for fear her child could suffer backlash at a middle school where older students attend.

"The school system is doing a disservice to the kids who are being held back, as well as the age appropriate kids," she said.