The Middle School Effect
by Dr. Shahid Shaikh
The academic quality of a middle school can have far-reaching effects on students’ future educational opportunities and ultimately their careers. In evaluating a middle school, parents should focus on at least two major factors: its Regents offerings and its number of eighth graders accepted into New York City Specialized High Schools.
The race for elite universities begins in middle school. Most top-notch universities require the following math and science SAT subject tests—some combination depending on the field of study—from their incoming freshmen: Math I, Math II, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. They expect high school students to meet these requirements by the end of their junior year for serious admissions consideration and scholarships.
Top-tier middle schools offer the following Regents to their eighth graders: Living Environment, Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2/Trigonometry, U.S. History, and Language Proficiency exam (after three years of study). For example, IS 75 in Staten Island, New York, only offers U.S History Regents, Living Environment Regents, and Algebra 1 Regents to selected students. These students start with AP biology in the 9th grade. Students who take these courses and respective Regents in middle school are ready to meet the admissions requirements of the Ivy Leagues and top research universities by their junior year in high school. In addition, these rigorous preparations at the middle school tend to enhance their academic standings especially when they achieve admissions into the Specialized High Schools as well as score high on their PSAT and SAT. Many Specialized High Schools require their 9th graders to take PSAT in October.
Second-tier middle schools offer Algebra 1, U.S. History, and Earth Science Regents. For example, IS 72 in Staten Island, New York, only offers these Regents to its honor students. Very few students from these schools qualify for Specialized High Schools. Students from these schools start high school with Living Environment Regents. It is not clear how a high school student who takes Earth Science and Algebra I in the eighth grade will meet the Ivy Leagues’ entrance requirements by his/her junior year. Students required to study two years of physics, chemistry, and biology before taking AP exams and SAT subject tests. Most competitive high school guidance counselors will not schedule a freshman to take more than one AP science course per year. Additionally, some schools such as Stuyvesant High School require their students to maintain at least a 90% average in the pre-requisite subject class before consideration for the AP class. On the other hand, Staten Island Technical High school admits its students into AP courses if they have a 100+ average. (By the way, 103 is the median average at Staten Island Tech.) Simply put, students from second-tier middle schools are at least one year behind their peers from the top-tier schools. Only a few students from these schools will qualify for Ivy League universities. Top middle school students from these high schools attend flagship state research universities and second tier private universities.
Third-tier middle schools do not offer any Regents. Their students are in the worst academic shape. In the absence of high quality courses and Regents, these middle schoolers will enter local high schools with considerable academic deficiencies and spend many years updating their academic knowledge and skills. Most of these students have not even heard of the Specialized High School entrance exam (SHSAT) let alone prepared for it. They start high schools with Earth Science Regents and Algebra 1 Regents. The top performers from these schools will usually attend four-year local colleges and the rest of them either attend two-year community colleges or simply discontinue their formal education.
In sum, it is better that your child attends a top-tier middle school where he/she accomplishes a more rigorous coursework. This early preparation will help him/her get admission in a high quality high school. Moreover, it will prepare him/her for advanced courses early in high school to meet the Ivy League and top-tier universities’ academic admissions criteria by the end of their junior year and for scholarship eligibility.
Dr. Shahid Shaikh is the director of Leadership Academy, Staten Island, New York. For more information, visit facebook.com/leadershipacademysi.