By RENA HAVNER
A yearlong experiment that held select sixth-graders in elementary school rather than moving them up to middle school is being halted by the Mobile County Public School System.
This year, St. Elmo, Holloway, Howard and Forest Hill elementary schools kept their sixth-graders. But next year, rising sixth-graders from those schools will go to middle school just as their counterparts at the system's 60 other elementary schools do, system officials recently decided.
Though the plan was touted last year as a way to help the puberty-aged students academically and socially, that has not been the case, according to a system report released recently. At the four elementary schools participating in the pilot program this year, behavior problems were up and grades were down.
"It was a good idea on paper," said Johnnita Bryant, principal of Florence Howard Elementary off Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Mobile. "It's just that it didn't work out in reality."
Sixth-graders at the four elementary schools, on average, scored lower on the system's quarterly standardized tests, known as CRT's, than sixth-graders in the county's middle schools did, according to the report.
There was a negative stigma attached to the sixth-graders who were "held back," according to the report. And younger children at the schools tried to emulate bad behaviors and actions of the sixth-graders.
"We learned a lot of lessons from this," Deputy Superintendent Samantha Ingram told the school board at a recent meeting. The board voted unanimously to end the pilot program.
The original thought behind the sixth-grade experiment was that students would benefit by staying in the system's elementary schools, which have improved over the last couple of years.
Instead, Bryant said, the students longed to be in middle school.
"When they were our fifth-graders, they were excellent fifth-graders, but this year, we've gotten very little out of them," Bryant said. "Our children just shut down. They would not do, not because they couldn't -- we were aware they had the skills and ability -- but because they didn't want to."
It always looks so good on paper.