Researchers with the Middle School Matters Institute are developing a professional development (PD) model optimized for helping middle school educators implement research-based reading practices known to produce positive academic outcomes for middle grade students. 

The model will be based on a combination of implementation research and past work conducted with a variety of middle schools across the nation. Components include (1) a well-defined set of research-based practices, (2) high-quality resources that align with the research-based practices, (3) a strategic planning process, (4) ongoing and embedded professional learning, (5) follow-up, and (6) capacity building to support sustainability. 


Research is ongoing.

Findings (Publications and Presentations)

Project Design


The purpose of this 4-year project is to develop, refine, and pilot a PD model optimized for achieving sustainable teacher improvement and positive student outcomes in middle school. The PD model will facilitate middle school educators’ implementation of research-based reading practices across the content areas of English language arts, science, and social studies. The end purpose is to produce effective middle school teachers and leaders who skillfully implement proven practices for enhancing reading comprehension, producing academic gains for students in secondary school and achieving readiness for college and career.


Building upon the existing work of the Middle School Matters Institute, researchers will iteratively develop and refine a PD model that can be used campuswide in middle schools. Teachers will provide feedback on the model via a series of questionnaires, focus groups, and interviews. In year 3, the model will be piloted over an entire school year with six middle schools (three treatment, three business as usual) in English language arts, science, and social studies classrooms.

Students’ growth in reading comprehension and change in student risk factors associated with school dropout will be assessed by using a researcher-developed strategy use measure, Gates-MacGinitie Reading Comprehension Test, and by collecting early warning indicator data (student attendance, behavior, and coursework grades).

Learn more about the pilot study on the Middle School Matters website.


Participants will include three middle schools during the iterative development phase (years 1 and 2) and six middle schools during the pilot study (year 3).

For more information, please see the following:


This project draws upon and extends the multiyear work of Middle School Matters, an education initiative of the George W. Bush Institute implemented by MCPER. Funded by private foundations, including the Meadows Foundation, Middle School Matters convened researchers, practitioners, and policymakers with a high interest in improving graduation rates. Throughout a series of development meetings, it became clear that (a) the middle grades are highly important and rarely receive the attention they deserve, and (b) a large body of quality, research-based practices proven to help middle grade students already exists, but schools and educators do not use, or know very little about, these practices.

In 2010, a group of nationally recognized researchers compiled a set of middle grade practices with strong research evidence of effectiveness. The majority of these practices centered on improving learning, knowledge acquisition, and reading comprehension across the content areas. Specifically, they included key literacy practices with embedded cognitive science principles and basic student supports to enhance learning and prevent dropout. These practices were recently updated in 2015 to reflect the latest research and were included as part of the 2016 second edition of the Middle School Matters Field Guide.

In 2013, MCPER began to disseminate information and resources on these key practices and support their implementation in selected schools. Of the 77 schools in 10 states that applied, 21 schools in four states (California, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas) were selected to participate in one or more of the three Middle School Matters initiative cohorts. For 3 years, these schools and teachers participated in various PD events, including an annual summer conference, traditional PD sessions, webinars, interactive site visits with modeled lessons and coaching, and other mechanisms of ongoing support to refine and solidify practices.

Contact Information

Christy Murray
Institute Director

Principal Investigators

  • Sharon Vaughn

Additional Investigators

  • Christy Murray
  • Elizabeth Stevens

Funding Agency


  • 2017–2021


  • Middle schools in Texas


Visit the Middle School Matters website for support, resources, and more.