Meeting the Diverse Needs of Middle School Students

June 12, 2018

This is the sixth blog in a series where we will be exploring the topic of innovation and its impact on digital curriculum. 

Ninth grade is the make-or-break year for high school students. Incoming ninth graders who are unprepared for high school coursework are more likely to drop out, and this trajectory begins in middle school. Every course failed in eighth grade increases the odds of non-promotion from ninth to tenth grade by 16 percent. However, students who finish ninth grade on track are four times more likely to graduate from high school.

By having a deeper understanding of the challenges facing middle school students and the startling barriers to success as a key predictor of success in ninth grade, we have the potential to make an impact on their learning at earlier stages in their academic career. This school year, 2018 – 2019, kicks off ESSA accountability, and middle school teachers are tasked with ensuring their students are demonstrating grade-level proficiency or growth toward proficiency. We can begin by supporting educators with the most effective content and resources they need to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed in middle school.

Challenges Facing Middle School Teachers

The challenges for middle school teachers go beyond understanding the content and teaching classes on a daily basis. Educators at this level think deeply about getting students ready for the next grade and moving toward high school preparedness. Current legislation (ESSA) requires that students in grades 3-8 be tested annually in reading and math, and teachers will now be held be accountable for demonstrating ESSA proficiency or growth toward proficiency. 

Middle school educators are concerned about the following:  

Grade-level proficiency in reading. Low achievement in reading affects performance in all subject areas. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 34 percent of eighth-grade students performed at or above proficient in 2015 NAEP reading assessments, contributing to high course failure rates.

Grade-level proficiency in of over 4,000 students in the Anchorage School District found that students who passed Algebra I by 8th grade or earlier were twice as likely to graduate on time vs. those students who did not pass Algebra I by 8th grade. In fact, it was found to be a statistically significant predictor of whether a student graduated or dropped out.

Grade level proficiency in English language arts. It’s also equally important to determine students are grade level proficient in English language arts because each skill learned builds toward the next one.  If a student hasn’t learned what they need to in 6th grade, he or she will not be prepared for 7th grade.

Keeping students on track. Once students are at grade level, teachers need to keep them there. If students struggle with a particular unit or concepts, they might need some personalized instruction to keep them on track. This early intervention keeps students from falling behind.

• Motivation. Elementary students work hard in school primarily because they want teacher and parent approval. High school students are motivated because the know their grades will count as they prepare to enter college and the work force. Middle school students, however, lack these “outside” motivators. As a result, middle school teachers need to craft captivating lessons to maintain the interest and engagement of their students.

Helping students become independent learners. Once they enter high school, students will be expected to work more independently. Educators need to provide some focus on study, organizational, and time management skills and a structure for practicing these skills.  

Variety. Middle school teachers must deal with a wider range of emotional and academic issues than at any other grade span. Students have boundless physical and emotional energy, but have trouble focusing for long period of time. Therefore, lessons must be “chunked”, varied, appropriate for a wide range of learners, and active.

Using Personalized Learning to Meet the Needs of Middle School Students

Apex Learning middle school digital curriculum personalizes learning to remediate underprepared students, strengthen grade-level comprehension and study skills, and assure mastery of state standards. By middle school, teachers are at the forefront of personalizing students’ learning. To amplify their efforts, Apex Learning puts key information at teachers’ fingertips so they can quickly identify which students need help right when it’s needed. Districts that use Apex Learning get results on key metrics such as class passage rates, end-of-year test scores, and preparation for the rigors of high school.

For middle school, Apex Learning focuses on designing learning experiences that raise achievement for all students. Context-rich instruction and real-time supports help students access grade-level material whether they are accelerating or struggling with the content, struggling readers, English language learners, or have other learning challenges. Continuous feedback provides opportunities for self-checks and positive reinforcement throughout the instruction, and students learn by doing as they develop, test, and expand their understanding in interactives where relatable material makes it easy for students to connect with their learning. Highly effective, ready-to-go digital curriculum and tools make it easier for teachers and administrators to track and increase student performance every day, without disrupting their school day or lesson plans. When districts partner with Apex Learning, they see grade-level readiness, promotion rates, end-of-year test scores, and student and teacher satisfaction rise across the board.

Middle school is the time to make sure learning gaps are filled and all students grade-level proficient. Apex Learning middle school digital curriculum is built specifically for middle school students: their attention spans, their interests, and their needs. Apex Learning offers curriculum for closing learning gaps (intervention and remediation), raising test scores (test readiness), and classroom enhancement, as well as sourses to meet alternative program and virtual school needs. Apex Learning recently unveiled a complete middle school catalog for the 2018 – 2019 school year, including a three-year suite of math, English, science, and social studies Tutorials and Courses.

To learn more about our digital curriculum for middle school students, visit or reach out to me directly with any questions at

Grad Selfie


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