The Talent Development Middle Schools program -- a whole-school reform model developed by researchers, educators and curriculum writers at Johns Hopkins' CRESPAR -- is improving student achievement in 11 Philadelphia public middle schools, despite obstacles such as poverty and high teacher turnover.
The improvements are demonstrated by scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment standardized test, or PSSA. Almost every Philadelphia school that has used the Talent Development Middle School model for three or more years has experienced what the state defines as "educationally significant gains" of 50 points or more in at least one tested subject area. As a group, the Talent Development Middle Schools have improved test scores significantly more than control schools. They also have bested, by an even wider margin, the citywide average improvement for all middle schools.
Eighth-graders in seven schools implementing the model for three to six years raised their schools' combined math and verbal PSSA scale scores by 55 to 215 points. Students in four schools that have used the model for just one year increased their combined scores between 10 and 130 points:
Only five of Philadelphia's 26 high-poverty, high-minority schools had eighth-graders who earned a combined PSSA average of 2200 or higher in 2001; four of those schools were Talent Development Middle Schools. In 2002, eight of the 14 high-poverty, high-minority schools to break 2200 were Talent Development Middle Schools.
"Schools using the Talent Development Middle School model have substantially and consistently improved their achievement levels," said Robert Balfanz, an associate research scientist at CRESPAR, the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk. "Their gains have been twice as great in comparison to overall school district gains, and 20 percent greater than matched sets of control schools. It should also be noted that the longer schools have been implementing the model, the greater their achievement gains."
Four of the 11 schools, however, are no longer using the model. During a systemwide reorganization last year, Clemente, Shoemaker and Tilden middle schools were turned over to private educational organizations, which chose to introduce their own reforms; Roosevelt was assigned to a set of schools restructured by the school district.
The model, which is designed to engage middle schoolers with a challenging yet nurturing learning environment, combines instructional, curricular, organizational and professional development reforms that are based on extensive research into what really works in middle schools. Students participate in hands-on classroom activities in every subject area. The model features small-group learning, extended class periods for core subjects and extra-help electives in math and reading. Teachers participate in monthly after-school or Saturday sessions and receive weekly in-classroom feedback from curriculum coaches.
The Talent Development model is being used in 18 schools in six states: Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington. In Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins' collaborators are the Philadelphia Education Fund and the School District of Philadelphia.