Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

Talent Development Middle School

What Is It?

The Talent Development Middle School whole school reform model is based on the belief that all students can learn challenging material if the right types of support are given. The model reorganizes and restructures the organization, curriculum, and instruction of a middle school in order to hold all students to high standards, but provide multiple pathways, supports and research- based practices that ensure their success.

Why Did It Get Started?

The Talent Development Middle School model puts into practice the best of research on middle school practices and programs conducted over the past few decades. Many middle school practices and structures have been advocated based on research findings, but few have been actually implemented in middle schools, and few middle schools have developed whole-school approaches based on the research. The Talent Development Middle School model developed by the Center for Research on Students Placed At Risk was first implemented at Central East Middle School in Philadelphia during the 1995-96 school year. Central East is a middle school with about 1,000 students in grades five through eight, most of them from low income, minority backgrounds. The model began implementation in a Washington, DC middle school in the 1996-97 school year. Currently, the model is expanding to several other middle schools in Philadelphia.

How Does It Work?

The essential components for the Talent Development Middle school include:

A demanding standards-based core curriculum aimed at active student learning is provided for all students in heterogeneously grouped classes.
Opportunities for extra help and enrichment are expanded through the use of cooperative learning and "extra dose" elective classes in mathematics and reading.
A communal organization of the school is established that includes semi- departmentalization, two- or three-person interdisciplinary teams, and small learning communities that endure for 2 or 3 years.
Students are assisted every year in setting goals, planning for the future, and systematically exploring educational and career options through a Career Exploration and Educational Decision Making course that meets weekly.
An intensive transition program (involving eighth graders as "older partners") ensures a good start for students who are new to the school.
Growth-oriented evaluation practices are used that recognize individual improvement and progress toward high standards, in addition to giving students realistic feedback about how their performance compares to national norms and performance standards.
Students are assisted with personal problems and concerns such as substance abuse, teenage parenthood, home difficulties, or poor attendance habits, by integrating professional services at the school and through coordinated efforts by each student's small learning community.
School-family-community partnerships are established.
Instruction is attentive to cultural patterns and norms, promotes cultural literacy, and helps students connect to and interpret cultural traditions.

What Are The Costs?

Costs for the Talent Development Middle School Model are primarily associated with curriculum and instructional materials, professional staff development, and personnel. The school employs a high-standards-based curriculum for all students in all subject areas, and costs will vary depending upon how the school's current curriculum resources can be used. Schools may need to phase in changes in curriculum, due to the costs involved. Costs in reading and language arts include purchases of high-quality demanding novels and Student Team Literature materials. Staff development includes the costs of teacher stipends for approximately 36 hours over a full year. Finally, a full-time program facilitator based at the school is needed, although this person may be someone who is already on staff. Costs to implement the model will vary from 1 percent to 3 percent of a school's operating budget depending upon how the school's resources can be used.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

A carefully structured reform process is used for the implementation of the Talent Development Middle School Model. This process involves the school staff in key decision-making roles and provides them with effective support systems for making necessary changes in school organization and classroom instructional practices.

The school's local school improvement team is provided with a detailed prospectus on the Talent Development Middle School Model that describes the components of the model and the conditions required for implementation. Other awareness materials are also available. The school improvement team is given the opportunity to visit a demonstration site so that they can decide if they wish to become a Talent Development Middle School with the associated reform requirements and responsibilities. The decision to become a Talent Development Middle School requires agreement by no less than 80 percent of the entire school staff.

At the implementation stage, the principal and teachers of the first Talent Development Middle School in a district engage in an extensive planning effort with technical assistance from the Talent Development Middle School program at the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk. This partnership continues through the first year of implementation to provide feedback on the required reform components and their effects. When additional schools in a district or locality decide to adopt the Talent Development Middle School Model, once the first demonstration site has been successful, a scaling-up network is formed with these schools and the demonstration site, with continuing follow up technical assistance provided by the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk or an authorized representative. This scaling- up network guides and supports the establishment of the additional Talent Development Middle School sites in the district.

What Is The Evidence That It Is Successful?

Implementation and outcome information have been collected to examine the initial effects of the Talent Development Middle School innovations at Central East Middle School in Philadelphia. The effects of implementing the essential components of the Talent Development Middle School model are being carefully evaluated at Central East Middle School by comparing student outcomes there to those obtained in a closely matched control school.

An assessment of motivational outcomes indicates that the language arts program called Student Team Literature implementation has produced reading, English and language arts classrooms where peer support for achievement is high, where student-teacher relations are positive, students give their best and work hard to master the content and meet adults' standards, and students are confident both in their ability to learn and in the future utility of what they are learning.

Analyses of the impact of the Talent Development Middle School Model on student achievement after 1 year of implementation indicate that students at Central East Middle school performed much better on the Stanford 9 in May 1996 than did students in the comparison school (controlling for students' scores from the previous year). For example, the adjusted mean reading comprehension scale score at Central East Middle School was one-half of a standard deviation higher than at the comparison school. The typical student in the typical classroom achieved an adjusted scale score that was about 11 points higher at Central East than the comparison school. This is equivalent to more than a whole extra year's worth of growth in reading comprehension.

In mathematics, the first year of Talent Development Middle School implementation focused on helping students who were behind to catch up quickly by offering them an extra dose of intensive instruction in mathematics in addition to their regular mathematics course. This approach had a big payoff the adjusted mean mathematics procedures scale score in May 1996 (controlling for students' starting points) was 10 points higher at Central East than at the comparison school. There was also a positive but smaller effect on mathematics problem-solving (five scale score points). We have also found initial evidence of powerful effects of the Talent Development Model on student and staff attendance, and on students' promotion rates, occupational understanding, and belief in the importance of making career plans during the middle school years.

Where Can I See It?

Central East Middle School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Whom Do I Contact?

Talent Development Middle School Program
Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk
Johns Hopkins University
3505 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218
Telephone: 410-516-8800; Fax: 410-516-8890

The Research Base

The Talent Development Middle School approach to helping greater numbers of students succeed in middle school is based on research illustrating that all students can learn challenging material if the right types of support are given. The components of the approach are based upon recent research on alternatives to tracking, effective practices in middle school education, and clear theories about and research pertaining to how to foster the positive relationships and supportive conditions that are so important at this time in students' lives.

The 1990s have produced many promising efforts and research studies aimed at nurturing and educating middle school students that are especially relevant to urban schools serving large numbers of students placed at risk. A first set of efforts includes the development and use of cooperative learning methods that embed peer tutoring into the daily routine of classroom life and that create positive peer pressure and peer support for achievement. A second set includes detracking and an awareness of the course sequences and gateways that have been highly influential in sorting students and determining future opportunities. A third set includes semi-departmentalization and interdisciplinary teams of teachers. The components and the philosophy of the Talent Development Middle school are derived from practice and research in these areas.

[Talent Development High School] [Table of Contents] [Three-Year Transition Program]