How Do Grade Structures Affect Healthy Child Development?

Late elementary school and middle school has long been seen as a critical point in child development, and several studies have shown that students experience a decline in performance when they transition from elementary to middle or middle to high school, and that they do not recover from these dips. Local school boards may choose to operate schools as K-8 combined elementary and middle schools or as K-5 elementary schools with separate middle schools, but little is known about how this structuring of grades might influence health outcomes or behavior.

Some argue that standalone middle schools can be more sensitive to the needs of an adolescent population, while others argue that the transition to a standalone middle school environment is disruptive. Schools serving a wider range of ages may also vary in resources or structure due to the different ages they serve (e.g., in physical activity infrastructure, physical education curricula, in-school food environments, or the presence of school clinics). The structuring of grades may therefore have associations with health outcomes through pathways that had not previously been measured by studies focused on academic or psychosocial outcomes.

As children are substantially more likely to attend nearby schools, the probability that a child in NYC attends a standalone or K-8 middle school is dependent on the locations of these schools. Using school attendance data from the Department of Education, the research team will estimate effects of middle schools structure on health-specific outcomes including obesity, trauma, mental health, and sexual health.