Providing an academically challenging curriculum with supportive social-emotional structures for middle school students placed at risk.


Equity pedagogy Empowering school culture and social structure

Title and Location:

Talent Development Middle School
Washington, D. C. 20008-1194

Contact Information:

CRESPAR (Center for Research on the Education for Students Placed at Risk)
Holy Cross Hall, Room 427
2900 Van Ness Street, NW
Washington, D. C. 20008-1194
Phone (202) 806-8484
Fax (202) 806-8498

Talent Development Middle School
Center for Social Organization of Schools
Johns Hopkins University
3003 North Charles Street, Suite 200
Baltimore, MD 21218
Phone (410) 516-8800
1 - 800 - 548-4998
Fax: (410) 516-8890


The Talent Development Middle School is an example of CRESPAR's Talent Development model applied at the middle school level. This model emphasizes that all students can succeed in a demanding curriculum with a culturally and developmentally supportive environment. Program developers redefine the notion of students at risk by adopting the position that students are not inherently at risk but are placed at risk of educational failure by adverse practices and situations in their environment. The program began in 1996 at the Evans Middle School, with an enrollment of 320 students. As of the 1997-1998 school year, the Talent Development Middle School has been extended to Central East Middle School in Philadelphia. A preliminary study conducted in 1996 found that instructional practices implemented in the Talent Development Middle School, such as Student Team Reading, resulted in increased reading comprehension.

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Program History and Description

The program begain in 1996 at the Evans Middle School, with an enrollment of 320 students. The school includes grades seven through nine, with seventh graders comprising the largest number of students. In the 1997-1998 school year it was extended to Central East Middle School in Philadelphia, which enrolls approximately 1,000 students in grades five through eight.

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Program Components

Primary Goals

The primary goal of the Talent Development Middle School is to promote academic achievement by providing challenging instructional materials and supportive school structures. The program is designed to meet this goal through a system of obtainable goals, rewards, and motivation. A core curriculum of challenging classes focuses on active, constructivist learning and the development of higher order competencies. Instruction is attentive to cultural norms and practices, and partnerships with parents and community members are encouraged to provide positive reinforcement for personal and intellectual development.

Instructional Strategies and Materials

The following instructional strategies have been developed as part of the Talent Development Middle School model:

1) Core Curriculum. Students are heterogeneously grouped and participate in weekly lab periods in major subject area classes.

2) Literacy Through Film. Films are used to expose students to historical events and as links to the math and science curriculum. The films serve as a scaffold for high-level discussion, critical thinking, and writing activities. Films are presented in 20 - 25 minute segments, followed by group discussions, writing assignments, and the reading of related literature.

3) School Organization. The school is reorganized so that students see fewer numbers of teachers, allowing for increased accountability and the development of personal relationships. RELA (reading, English, language arts) teachers were retrained to teach all RELA subject matter areas. Each student receives instruction from an inter-disciplinary teacher team. Weekly assemblies organized by grade levels provide a forum to address concerns and recognize weekly student progress.

4) Yes to Success Program. Students participate in after-school tutoring designed to increase test performance and address other areas of academic weakness.

5) In-School Academic Assistance. Students who need extra academic assistance are provided with an extra period of math and reading during the school day in place of regularly scheduled electives.

6) Active Affirmation. The program works with parents to recognize the significant role parents play in character development. Parents are provided with the Parent Handbook of Character Development which contains cultural literacy activities.

7) Career Exploration/College Exploration. Students complete Holland's Self-Directed Search, a self assessment inventory of interests and skills. Mentors meet with students who share career interests. Teacher advisors lead students through the Career Exploration and Educational Decision-Making Course, where students gather information on careers of interest, interview representatives from careers, and identify high school programs that best match their interests.

8) Student Team Reading. The Student Team Reading (STR) program recreates a learning environment where students work cooperatively to improve reading comprehension. The program stresses creating relevant links between reading materials and student interests. The program is literature-based, using novels which teachers introduce with background information and relevant vocabulary. STR teachers also provide students with comprehension strategies such as predictions, understanding figurative language, identifying themes and issues, and drawing conclusions.


As part of the STR program, students participate in cooperative tasks which include:

a) Partner Reading. A student reads the selection silently, then aloud while the student's reading partner follows along and helps the student with miscues. This task is designed to build automaticity and comprehension.

b) Treasure Hunts. Students individually analyze the text for plot, literary devices, and questions which arise from analytical conclusions.

c) Word Mastery. Students practice vocabulary with partners and compose meaningful sentences using the vocabulary.

d) Story Retelling. Students summarize and retell stories to partners, which improves oral mastery and comprehension.

e) Story-Related Reading. Students participate in writing activities which connect the text to other relevant topics.

f) Extension Activities. Students engage in interdisciplinary activities that link novels with other subject areas.

g) Tests. Students take three tests which assess student understanding, vocabulary acquisition, and an oral word mastery test.


The student body at Evans Junior High School in Washington, D.C. is comprised entirely of African American youth. Central East's student body is approximately 45% Latino (primarily Puerto Rican), 24% African American, 13% Asian (primarily Cambodian and Vietnamese), 8% White, and 10% from other racial and ethnic groups.

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Program Success

Student Achievement

CRESPAR researchers conducted a study in 1996 at the Central East site and a comparison school to assess the impact of Student Team Reading. Researchers measured the frequency of peer assistance and discussion using student questionnaires, and pre- and post reading comprehension scores of Student Team Reading (STR) participants.

Findings revealed significant gains in reading comprehension levels among previously ranked low, middle, and high achievers. According to CRESPAR researchers, students participating in the STR model had greater opportunities than the comparison group to work in teams, explain answers, make predictions about stories, and utilize vocabulary in meaningful ways.

Student Team Reading was also found to be a strong predictor of seven important measures of student motivation, including peer support, the feeling that teachers care, the desire to work for adults, future utility, effort, self concept of ability, and a feeling of giving one's best effort. CRESPAR researchers caution that these are only early results and indicate that further studies of STR effectiveness will be conducted.

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Program Replication

The Talent Development Model continues to be developed at Central East Middle School and Evans Middle School. CRESPAR researchers expect to replicate the model at other middle schools within the next five years.

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MacIver, D. & Plank, S. (1997). Talent Development Middle School: Creating a motivational climate conducive to talent development in middle schools: Implementation and effects of Student Team Reading. Center Report No. 4 Baltimore: Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk (CRESPAR), Johns Hopkins University.

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