Jefferson Parish public schools to consider eliminating 6th-8th grade format at middle schools _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Students leave a Jefferson Parish public school in January 2016.

There may soon be fewer public schools in Jefferson Parish exclusively educating children in sixth through eighth grades.

School Board members last week unanimously passed a measure asking Superintendent Isaac Joseph’s administration to look at shifting to alternative grade structures.

The measure, sponsored by board member Melinda Doucet, came after nine of the 11 Jefferson Parish public schools operating under the grades 6-8 model received state grades in 2015 that were lower than a B, the district’s overall rating.

Six of those schools earned a C, two were given a D and one failed, according to state data. Only one school earned an A, and another a B.

“They’re not performing up to standards,” Doucet said of the district’s 6-8 schools. “So we need to re-evaluate.”

Jefferson isn’t the only school district to grapple with the question of which grade configuration is best for students.

For years, educators and researchers around the country have debated how to address declining academic performance in the middle-school years, when students are making the transition from childhood to adolescence.

The 6-8 model still has defenders, who say that separate campuses for elementary and middle schoolers can be more closely tailored to their different needs.

On the other hand, many advocate K-8 schools as a way to make the transition to adolescence less jarring, keeping students around the same peers, teachers and administrators.

“Remaining with the same group of children longer ... allows you to become a family,” Doucet said. “You get to know each other better. You look after each other, and you’re more relaxed in your surroundings.”

In Orleans Parish, the 6-8 model has been mostly abandoned. By and large, the independent charter schools that have taken over public education in the city since Hurricane Katrina are structured as K-8 schools. Some even go from kindergarten through high school.

The Jefferson Parish School Board asked its superintendent to study a range of potential options.

Board member Cedric Floyd suggested looking at neighboring St. Charles Parish, where the district overall has an A rating and schools are structured in various ways, including pre-kindergarten to second grade and third grade to fifth grade.

Doucet said she did not know exactly when the administration would report its findings back to the School Board on the issue.

But she said there is a plethora of information on the topic already available, and she hopes some changes can be implemented by the time the next academic year begins in the fall.

“The facts are the facts,” said Doucet, who is in her second year as a School Board member. “We can’t be so old-school.”