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Middle School Matters is a privately funded education initiative that offers high-quality support and resources for the middle grades.

About Middle School Matters Initiative

The Middle School Matters Institute is an initiative of the George W. Bush Institute in partnership with The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at The University of Texas.  We partner with the nation’s leading education researchers and practitioners and draw upon decades of high-quality research to provide excellent support and resources to middle grades schools across the nation.


Our ultimate goal is to increase the number of students well-prepared for high school and post secondary success. We do this by drawing upon solid research to develop practical tools and engaging support opportunities for middle grade campuses, allowing research-based practices to be brought to life in classrooms across the nation.

Learn more about why the stakes are high in middle school.

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The Importance of Middle School

The Challenge

The middle grades are the "make it or break it" years, when some students begin to disengage from school, increasing the likelihood of high school dropout.

Research indicates that students at risk of dropping out can be identified as early as sixth grade.  In fact, sixth graders who display just one of the following off-track indicators have only a 15% - 25% chance of graduating on time:

  • A failing grade in mathematics or English/language arts; or
  • An attendance rate of less than 85%, or
  • One unsatisfactory behavior mark in a core course.

The Solution: Focused Efforts to Ensure Middle School Success

Contrary to popular belief, a strong research base for effective instructional practices in the middle grades does exist. Recent research has identified a set of instructional, support, and data management strategies that accelerate student learning, raise attendance rates, and increase positive behaviors in the classroom. Middle schools should implement these practices widely and with fidelity to reduce students' risk of high school dropout and prepare them for successful high school and postsecondary experiences.


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Middle School Matters Field Guide

The second edition of the Middle School Matters Field Guide is a collection of research-based principles, practices, and strategies deemed essential for middle school success. All recommendations are based on rigorous research conducted in the middle grades over the past 15 years.

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Who should use the field guide?

The field guide can be used by all middle grades educators, including principals, administrators, counselors, instructional coaches, teachers, and interventionists.

What content areas and grade levels are addressed?

The field guide principles and practices apply to all content areas (including science and social studies) and apply to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders (including students who are learning English).

How do educators use the field guide?

The field guide contains examples and illustrations for each recommended practice to help educators understand and then implement these practices in their classrooms and schools. Additional implementation support can be found in our Instructional Toolkits.

Download the Field Guide here

If you have any questions about the field guide or how to use it, please contact us at

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Retrieval Practice

Improving Learning Through Retrieval Practice

Retrieval Practice involves engaging students in activities that require them to actively recall information that they have learned previously. This method has been demonstrated in a variety of classroom and lab studies. While it can take on a variety of formats, (i.e., discussion, writing, quizzing), retrieval practice is most effective when students are quizzed in a low-stakes setting such that they are practicing showing what they know.

Synonymous Terms: Retrieval Practice, Testing Effect, Test-Enhanced Learning

Explore professional development, videos, and instructional materials on the Retrieval Practice page.

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Student Feedback Toolkit

Effective, Timely Feedback for Students

There are ways to provide students with formative feedback on assignments, activities, and assessments that promote increased learning. Feedback is most effective when it: (1) is delivered soon after the learning activity or at intermediate points throughout; (2) is specific; (3) does not represent a judgment or evaluation, and (4) provides students with a clear path toward improvement of their work.

Explore professional development, videos, and instructional materials on the Student Feedback Toolkit page.

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The Middle School Matters Institute (MSMI)

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Published with permission from the Middle School Matters Institute.

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