Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Professional Studies


Teaching and Leadership


Joseph B. Shedd


best practices, middle grades, middle school, NYS Essential Elements, poverty, student achievement

Subject Categories




By 2003, both the New York State Board of Regents Policy Statement and the new Commissioner’s Regulation 100.4, required all middle level programs to implement a set of policies and practices called the NYS Essential Elements of Standards-Focused Middle-Level Schools and Programs. Early adolescence (ages 10-14) is a time when students experience, the most tumultuous physical and mental changes occur during adolescence, with the exception of a child’s first year of life (Montessori, 2004). Middle grade level philosophy and a description of what middle schools should be like are directly linked to taking a balanced approach to meeting the social, emotional, intellectual and academic needs of students in the middle grades. Many of these beliefs became the foundation of middle grade level education and they serve as the principles of the NYS Essential Elements.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) never enforced its own middle grade regulations and has provided little support to help school leaders understand and implement the Essential Elements. Some observers insist that the practices required by the Essential Elements can play a critical role in supporting students’ learning, while others treat practices that do not directly address their academic learning as “extras” that only the wealthiest school districts can afford. Recently, public schools in New York State have faced financial difficulties trying to manage many changes to their instructional and evaluative practices. School leaders often struggle to know what decisions to make that will improve the culture within the school and earn higher student achievement ratings on state tests. How would applying the NYS Essential Elements impact the culture in the building and the test scores of its students?

This study compares the ways in which four schools implement the NYS Essential Elements and explores whether and how their implementation of the Elements may have affected three years of student achievement scores on the NYS math and ELA, 8th grade test. Both surveys and follow up interviews were used to collect data to measure the degree each school implemented the NYS Essential Elements. A basic statistical analysis was used to explain the survey data. Interview data was coded to facilitate analysis. The study investigates how and why schools apply the NYS Essential Elements and the impact they may have on the academic and social fabric within each school.

Results of the study indicated that all four schools implemented the NYS Essential Elements to a moderate or above moderate degree. The school that implemented the NYS Essential Element to the greatest degree also had the highest test scores in math and second highest in ELA in spite of having a high percentage of students living in poverty. Another school that had the highest percentage of students living in poverty implemented the Essential Elements to the second highest degree and performed as well on state tests as the school with lower rates of poverty and implementation. The two high need schools in the study performed as well or better than the average need schools. The study provides reasons to believe that applying the NYS Essential Elements can help students overcome the hurdles of poverty and achieve at a higher rate.

This study contributes to the body of literature about middle level philosophy and practices. Four school case studies provide an in depth look at how and why the NYS Essential Elements of Standards Focused Middle Level Schools and Programs benefit middle school students. The study also reveals the importance of taking a balanced approach to middle grade education, making time to meet the specific needs of students and having school leaders consider the NYS Essential Elements to guide them through difficult decisions.


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