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Grade Spans in Middle Schools

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: Should sixth and ninth graders be combined within one school? What are the pros and cons to this kind of setting -- socially, developmentally, etc.? Any reading or reference material suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your info.

A: Combining grades 6, 7, 8, and 9 in one school is decidedly not a common configuration. It does exist, although it is not seen frequently. Today, the most common configuration is grades 6-8 followed by grades 7-8. Researchers, however, have come to the conclusion that it isn't the grade configuration at the middle school/junior high level that is most important but the quality of the program.

No matter what grade configuration a school selects, each will have its advantages and disadvantages. There is no one "best" grade level organization. Here is a bird's-eye view of the advantages and disadvantages of a grades 6-9 combination.


  • Ninth graders can have a leadership role which they would not enjoy in a senior high school setting.
  • The difference in age between age 14 (ninth grade) and age 18 (twelfth grade) is so great that it can be difficult for some ninth graders to adjust.
  • Some ninth graders are too young and immature to be placed with senior high school students.
  • The four-year stay in one school facilitates better relationships for students, staff, and parents than a shorter stay.
  • Sixth graders can profit from a more diversified curriculum and a greater range of facilities than most elementary schools have.


  • Ninth graders are more like tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders because most have gone through puberty.
  • Separating ninth graders from tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders limits curriculum and extracurricular offerings for them.
  • The younger children, especially the sixth graders, may want to imitate the ninth graders and grow up too fast.
  • Having to relate to many teachers may mean a difficult adjustment for sixth graders.
  • The leadership advantages given to sixth graders in a K-6 plan would disappear.
  • Some sixth graders might be better off in the protective environment of an elementary school.

    For reference materials, go to the resource center of the National Middle School Association Website. The research summary on grade configuration has an excellent list of references.

    More on: Expert Advice

    Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

    Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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