Last year, the NYC Department of Education changed its admissions process for middle schools, and for a second year, students will be admitted primarily by lottery. Grades, state test results, and attendance records will not be taken into consideration.
This process presents a number of challenges for families, points out Alina Adams, mother of two school-aged children and author of a number of books dedicated to helping parents find schools that are good fits for their children, as well as her blog New York School Talk. Most importantly, students of very different abilities will likely be placed together in Gifted & Talented and high-performing schools. That is, classrooms will include both students who have a mastery of academic subjects and are a good fit for an accelerated classroom experience, as well as students who do not have that level of preparation.
While Success Academy scholars enter elementary school via random lottery, all students in our middle school classrooms have been prepared to the same high standards. This means that their middle school experience will be rich and engaging and, when they complete middle school, they will be excellently prepared for a collegiate high school experience.
SA’s School Culture Gets High Marks
When considering a middle school for your scholar, keep in mind that test scores are only one measure of school quality. Parents and scholars should consider the school’s electives, clubs, and teams; social-emotional support; and the culture and learning environment. On our most recent survey, 91% of middle school parents were satisfied or highly satisfied with their scholar’s SA experience, and 94% said the quality of instruction and learning at SA is high quality. In terms of scholar social-emotional health and development, 80% of parents said that SA supports their scholar, and 85% of scholars said their teachers keep classrooms safe and organized so they can focus on learning. Overall, 89% of parents said they would recommend their middle school to a friend or family member.
Deep Learning: An Engaging & Diverse Curriculum
Our middle school curriculum comprehensively prepares scholars for an advanced, collegiate-level high school experience, across four core areas: science and math (STEM), literature and history (Humanities):
SA’s STEM program empowers our scholars to think flexibly and analytically and to systematically follow lines of insightful inquiry when faced with unfamiliar and challenging problems. SA has always prioritized science, and we recently reimagined our middle school science content. In a major departure from standard American science education, which tends to focus on only one discipline per year, we teach physics, biology, earth and space, and chemistry throughout all four years of middle school. Integrating these disciplines allows scholars to approach scientific concepts through an interdisciplinary lens, and to revisit concepts at a progressively more sophisticated level.
Our mathematics program develops scholars as confident mathematicians, powerful quantitative thinkers, and productive problem-solvers. Scholars gain a deep understanding of mathematical concepts through contextualized applications, ultimately building an understanding based on reasoning, not just calculation. Scholars hone their mathematical reasoning abilities as they learn to assess unfamiliar problems, think about what they know, and identify the essential information they need to arrive at a solution.
In SA’s middle school English program, scholars delve into compelling works of fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction from both the canon and contemporary culture. They read six whole-class books each year — a total of 24 over four years — each selected for its literary merit. Of these, 46% are written by authors of color and/or center on characters of color, and 42% are by female authors. The reading list ranges from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet to Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. As growing writers, our scholars learn how to express ideas clearly and powerfully while upholding high standards of organization and grammar. Throughout the year, they write pieces in a variety of genres and strive for vibrant self expression through ample practice and revision.
In many school districts, middle school and high school history are two different programs; at SA, our history program is thoughtfully sequenced and continuous from fifth grade all the way up through senior year of high school. In grades 5-7, scholars take a three-year sequence of world history, with grade 8 devoted to a year on economics, government, and constitutional law. By giving our scholars a global perspective earlier on, they’re really able to develop reading, writing, analysis, and discussion skills before narrowing their focus to American history in high school.
Electives, Clubs, and Teams
Middle school is more than academic mastery. Electives, clubs and teams provide opportunities for personal growth and engagement. Our middle schools give scholars ample opportunity to explore and discover talents and passions and to pursue them at a high level through electives, clubs and competitive teams. Twice per year, scholars choose an elective class, which they study five days a week for an hour each day, allowing for sustained immersion. Electives can include art, dance, theater, debate, chess, basketball, and soccer. Scholars have opportunities to participate in regional and national competitions.
Our Students’ Academic Achievement
You have probably seen the test results of the Success Academy network, as well as our individual elementary schools, through school ranking websites like Niche or Great Schools. Because of an oddity of the city and state’s identification system, our individual middle and high schools aren’t recognized as separate schools, and therefore aren’t included on these websites. Luckily, SA’s Enterprise Data and Analytics team collects and analyzes data from the NYS Education Department, the Board of Regents, and the College Board.
What have we found?
NYS Math and ELA Tests
In grades 6-8 (district middle schools start in grade 6; SA in grade 5), students at SA middle schools are more than twice as likely to meet math and ELA standards than district students. Compared to middle school students at other charter schools, SA scholars are also significantly better prepared to meet academic standards.
The two charts below show the top 30 NYC middle schools in math and ELA, based on New York State exams administered in 2019. Success Academy middle schools performed as well or better than the city’s most selective Gifted & Talented schools.
Across all NYC middle schools only about a quarter of students take even a single Regents exam. Currently, 100% of SA 8th graders take four Regents exams: Algebra I, Living Environment, Global History & Geography, and English Language Arts. The last time Regents exams were administered were in January 2020. Below are comparisons of student performance on the three exams administered prior to COVID-19. Across SA middle schools, 99% passed the Algebra I Regents exam, with 75% receiving a level 5, the highest level possible.