The Talent Development Middle School Model

Context, Components, and Initial Impacts on Students’ Performance and Attendance

By Corinne Herlihy, James J. Kemple

The Talent Development Middle School model is a whole-school reform approach designed to improve student achievement in urban middle schools that serve high-poverty populations. The model includes a systematic reorganization of schools into small learning communities, in which teachers are part of interdisciplinary teams that share the same students and have common planning time. The model also offers an academic curriculum based on nationally recognized standards, professional development opportunities for teachers, the use of curriculum coaches to help support teachers on an ongoing basis, and extra help for students struggling in mathematics or reading.

MDRC is evaluating the model at the invitation of the organization that created it, the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk (CRESPAR), based at The Johns Hopkins University. Funding for this report was provided, through CRESPAR, by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Covering the first three years of Talent Development’s operation in six middle schools as well as up to two additional years of follow-up for a subset of the schools, this report focuses on student achievement and attendance outcomes for seventh- and eighth-graders. It also describes the context in which Talent Development operates, and it reviews the model’s components and implementation. In general, the findings shed light on the effectiveness of an early phase of Talent Development’s expansion.

Key Impact Findings

  • Talent Development had a positive impact on math achievement for eighth-grade students, which emerged in the third year of implementation and then strengthened during the next two years in the schools for which data are available.

  • Talent Development schools exhibited modest impacts on eighth-grade attendance rates.

  • The model produced an inconsistent pattern of impacts on eighth-grade reading achievement: Modest improvements occurred in some years but not in others.

  • Talent Development did not produce a consistent pattern of impacts, positive or negative, on seventh-grade math or reading achievement or attendance.

Taking the strengths and limitations of the model into account, and given the small number of schools in the analysis and the limited follow-up period for most of the schools, it is important to be cautious about drawing definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of the model for this interim report.

An update to the report tells how, during the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 school years, the School District of Philadelphia (the district discussed in this report) made pervasive changes to its middle schools. As a result of the changes, the core components of Talent Development were dismantled in the middle schools that were implementing the model, effectively ending the evaluation of the model’s impact. However, one additional year of follow-up data was included in the analysis before the evaluation ended, and the findings drawn from that data offer support for the conclusions of this report.

Document Details

Publication Type
December 2004
Herlihy, Corinne M. and James Kemple. 2004. The Talent Development Middle School Model. New York: MDRC.