Study Investigates the Transition From Elementary to Secondary Education in Germany

Education minister: Need to cultivate the potential of students of all backgrounds

July 02, 2010

The newly published TIMSS Transition Study, “The Transition from Elementary to Secondary School: Regional, Social, and Ethnic/Cultural Disparities in Educational Equity,” is the first to present nationally representative data on the transition to secondary education in Germany. “Our knowledge society depends on the creative potential of people of all social backgrounds,” said Minister of Education Annette Schavan on the publication of the study. “Now more than ever, we need targeted research to determine what else can be done to improve individual student outcomes.” The findings of the TIMSS transition study “make the case for an even more permeable education system” said Minister Schavan. The study was headed by the outgoing Director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Jürgen Baumert. Its findings show that the transition from elementary to secondary education is one of the most critical points at which social inequality emerges. Professor Baumert called for renewed efforts to fine-tune the “joints” of the education system.

“Educational success in German schools are still closely linked to social status. Students from privileged backgrounds are three times more likely to attend the academic secondary track than are their peers from working class families,” said Jürgen Baumert. “We identified three main factors impacting the transition to secondary education: the students’ objective performance, their teachers’ assessments of their ability and aptitude, and their social background. Students’ objective learning outcomes had the main impact, accounting for almost half of the distribution of students to the different school tracks,” added Baumert. Further analyses conducted by coauthors Kai Maaz and Gabriel Nagy indicate that three quarters of social background effect discernible at the transition to secondary education develops before and during elementary schooling.

Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has long targeted these points of transition. Along with the continuation of the all-day schooling program, several research projects have been initiated to foster successful transitions to secondary education. For example, the National Education Panel Study will provide insights into exactly how school, family, peers, and the learning environment impact students’ learning outcomes, and a national intervention program is being developed to support student language development from kindergarten to lower secondary level.

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