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School Culture and Performance at Different Middle Level Structures

Dissertation
Author: Martin Omar Gomez
Abstract:
American educators and researchers have spent decades attempting to determine the most effective middle level school configuration. Although various models have been conceptualized in order to resolve one of our most extensive educational reform movements, a recent nationwide increase in K-8 schools suggest interested parties have accepted the K-8 concept for its favorable results as compared to middle schools. Some of the positives of the K-8 concept include: greater involvement of parents and staff, higher achievement, higher student self-esteem, and fewer incidents of student misconduct reflecting a more positive school climate. Other research, however, has shown that grade level organization does not directly correlate to higher achievement and that school climate, organizational values, and teacher attitudes are more significant in explaining school performance. The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate the inconsistencies of past middle level research and determine if K-8 school configurations outperform middle schools in California. Findings partially support the construct validity of the originally-proposed Heck and Marcoulides model (1996b) across K-8 and MS structures and, demonstrate that K-8s outperform MS at the 8th grade level. Moreover, the study identified educationally important aspects of teacher-perceived cultural variables and how these perceptions collectively and specifically impact school performance in K-8 schools but not in middle schools. In order to develop higher achieving middle level schools, school leaders are encouraged to (1) prioritize team building strategies to empower staff, bolster collegiality, and allow the principal to focus on school performance, (2) connect parents to the school via meetings and workshops designed to improve parental support at home, and (3) dedicate time and resources for teachers to participate in decision-making and to discuss best teaching practices with their peers. These recommendations may apply to most school settings regardless of configuration. One problem with the MS structure may be that staff members have less time to develop relationships with students and their parents compared to the K-8 structure. Further, disparity in school performance can be attributed mostly to teacher perception differences of the school climate, teacher attitudes, and organizational values.

vii TABLE OF CONTENTS Acknowledgements ………………………………………………………..

…...

iv

Abstract ……………………………………………………………………

……

v

List of Tables ……………………………………………………………...

……

ix

List of Figures ……………………………………………………………..

……

x

Chapter 1: Introduc tion …………………………………………………...

……

1

Statement of the Problem and Purpose of the Study …………………...

2

Research Questions …………………………………………………….

5

Definitions ……………………………………………………………...

6

Overview……………………………………………………………….

7

Chapter 2:

Theoretical and Conceptual Framework ……………………...

……

8

Chapter 3: Literature Review ……………………………………………..

……

14

A History of Organizational Culture …………………………………...

14

Organizational Climate ………………………………………………...

16

Positive Outcomes of

Organizational Climates in Schools ……………

21

Different Organizational Middle School Structures …………………...

23

Junior High School Program …………………………………………...

28

Middle School Program ………………………………………………..

30

Middle - Level Student Ch anges ………………………………………...

33

Negative Outcomes of the Junior High and Middle Schools …………..

35

K - 8 Program ……………………………………………………………

39

Negative Outcomes of K - 8 Schools ……………………………………

44

Do K - 8s Always Outperform Middle Schools? ....... ...............................

46

School Effectiveness Research and Culture ……………………………

49

Hypothesis ……………………………………………………………...

51

Chapter 4: Study Design and Methodology ………………………………

……

53

Sample ………………………………………………………………….

53

Instrumentation ………………………………………………………...

54

Theoretical and Statistical Model Examined …………………………..

59

Research Design ………………………………………………………..

64

Chapter 5: Analysis and Results ………………………………………….

……

66

Performance Comparison ……………… ………………………………

67

Model Comparison ……………………………………………………..

68

Chapter 6: Discussion …………………………………………………….

……

8 4

viii

The Examined Model…………... ……………………………………...

8 5

Sociocultural Subsystem ……………………………………………….

8 7

Organizational Belief S ubsystem ………………………………………

9 1

Individual Belief Sub ystem …………………………………………….

9 6

Direct Effects on School Performance …………………………………

9 7

School Performance Differences ... …………………………………….

9 9

Conclusions …………………………………………………………….

101

L imitations

and Suggestions for Further Research…... ………………..

102

References…………………………………………………………………

……

1 04

Appendix A: Latent and Observed Variables of Survey ………………….

……

1 14

Appendix B: The Organization of the School

and Teacher Satisfact ion

With their Work Environment

Survey ……………… ……..

…….

1 15

Appendix C: K - 8 and/or Middle School Principal………………………..

……

1 24

Appendix D: K - 8 Teachers and/or Middle School Teachers……………..

……

1 26

Appendix E: Survey Con sent ……………………………………………..

……

1 28

Appendix F:

Reminder

Letter……………………………………………

……

1 29

ix LIST OF TABLES Table Number Title Page

Table 4 .1

School District Information…………………………………………..

54

Table 4.2

Measurement Equations for E ndogenous Variables …………………

62

Table 4.3

Measurement Equations for Exogenous Variables …………………..

62

Table 5.1

School District Number of Schools and Teachers Information ……...

66

Table 5.2

Teacher Response Rate by School District…………………………..

67

Table 5 .3

Descriptive Statistics of Variables in the Model……………………..

71

Table 5.4

Descriptive Statistics of Variables in Both Groups…………………..

7 3

Table 5.5

Measures of Model Fit……………………………………………….

74

Table 5.6

Factor Loadings (Variables Reflecting Endogenous

Latent Variables)……………………………………………………………..

74

Table 5.7

Factor Loadings (Variables Reflecting Exogenous Latent Variables).

76

Table 5.8

Structural Components of the Model (Exogenous Latent Variables to Endogenous Latent Variables)………………………… ……………..

77

Table 5.9

Structural Components of the Model (Endogenous Latent Variables to Endogenous Latent Variables)………………………… ………….

79

Table 5.10

Indirect Effects to School Performance………………………………

82

x LIST OF FIGURES Figure Number Title Page

Figure 2 .1

Proposed Model of Organizational Culture and School Performance .

12

Figure 4 .1

The Proposed SEM Model …………………………………………

60

Figure 5.1

P roposed Model of Organizational Culture and School Performance .

7 6

1 Chapter 1 Introduction A number of different models for school structure have been used for decades in the American educational school system. The junior high school (7 th through 9 th grade levels), middle school (6 th through 8 th grade levels), and K-8 (kindergarten through 8 th

grade levels) models were conceptualized and implemented as educators tried to determine the best school structure and format that would improve the academic performance of students within this age group. Recently, a number of stakeholders involved with the middle school grade model configuration appear to have accepted the K-8 model concept mainly because some of the current empirical and practical research findings concerning school outcomes for this particular model have been positive (Arcia, 2007; Byrnes & Ruby, 2007; Connolly et al., 2002; Juvonen et al., 2004; Offenberg, 2001; Weiss, 2008; Weiss & Kipnes, 2006; Yecke, 2006). For example, positive results for K-8 schools compared to other school models include: increased involvement of parents and staff members, overall higher student test scores, higher participation rates in extracurricular activities, greater levels of student leadership and self-esteem, students attending more prestigious high schools, students were less likely to be threatened, had less discipline issues, and viewed teachers as more humanistic (Arcia, 2007; Byrnes & Ruby, 2007; Connolly et al., 2002; Juvonen et al., 2004; Offenberg, 2001; Weiss, 2008; Weiss & Kipnes, 2006; Yecke, 2006). A variety of other recent research results, however, have also shown that K-8 schools do not always outperform middle schools noting that the major factors in

2 determining student achievement include a motivated staff and strong leadership, and not simply the configuration of the school or a change in the educational program (Balfanz et al., 2002; Erb, 2006; Viadero, 2008; Weiss, 2008; Whitley et al., 2007; Yecke, 2006;). This dissertation will attempt to expand on that line of research and compare various dimensions of school culture in K-8 schools in contrast to middle schools, in order to explore whether or not the positive effects associated with the K-8 highlighted in the extant literature actually occur and, if so, to provide an understanding of the effects.

Statement of the Problem and Purpose of the Study Although the field of educational research has developed a rich literature on the relationship between institutional culture and school performance during the past three decades, this research has not specifically examined how differences in grade-level configuration affect institutional culture, which in turn, impacts student achievement. Viadero (2008) has also indicated that much of the previous research has not always used rigorous advanced statistical techniques (e.g. structural equation modeling) to study such complex multivariate phenomenon, whereas Klump (2006) has argued that to date there are no large scale empirical studies explaining the relationships between middle school grade configuration and student achievement. Existing research has also suggested that more studies need to be performed in a variety of states within the United States, as most of the research on middle-grade configuration has taken place in the East Coast. Additionally, because research results on K-8 and middle school (MS) student achievement are inconsistent in attempting to determine which school structure is

3 outperforming the other and provide explanations as to why this may be occurring, there is clearly a need to provide further investigation on this issue. This research study will attempt to shed additional light on the relationship between middle-grade configuration (K-8 and middle school) and student achievement by examining student achievement results from a variety of schools located in Southern California. This research study will also attempt to explain why a particular school structure is outperforming the others based on teachers‘ perceptions of school functions. The study has three main purposes: (1) to examine the generalizability of a previously validated school culture model originally proposed by Heck and Marcoulides (1993a; 1996b) concerning how teacher perceptions of school culture explain student achievement across K-8 and middle schools; (2) to test the hypothesis that K-8 schools exert stronger positive culture influences over school performance than middle schools (Heck & Marcoulides, 1990); and (3) to determine if K-8 schools are outperforming middle schools on standardized exams at the 6 th and 8 th grade levels. The study will contribute to the existing knowledge base of the structural effects of grade-level configuration on institutional culture and student academic achievement (e.g. standardized test scores) at the middle school level. As indicated above, this research study will build upon an existing conceptual model of culture and school performance (Heck & Marcoulides, 1990) and test several hypotheses comparing the variables pertaining to culture, across different types of school structures in order to determine how grade-level configuration influences school performance through the shaping of particular dimensions of institutional culture. The

4 Marcoulides and Heck (1993a) model essentially asserts that performance can be determined from gaining knowledge of an organization‘s cultural environment. Heck and Marcoulides (1990) have previously shown that teachers‘ and workers‘ perceptions of the culture of their schools and business can predict performance. Furthermore, they determined that certain cultural variables have more of a direct or indirect impact on performance than others. The focus of this study is upon teacher perception of culture obtained from teachers at K-8 and middle schools in Southern California and the school performance associated with these teacher perceptions at the different school organizational structures. This study will be conducted in order to test whether the Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) model provides an accurate alternative explanation pertaining to the patterns of interrelationships between school culture and academic achievement as associated with both K-8 and 6-8 grade-level configuration structural effects. The study will also contrast a number of direct and indirect structural effects for K-8 schools versus those for middle schools on school performance in order to understand and explain possible performance variations. By comparing the two sets (K-8 versus middle school) of direct and indirect structural effects on school performance, this research study will provide insight with regards to how and why differences occur and to stimulate discussion on possible leadership behavior changes or school structural changes that have been correlated to higher school achievement. It is hoped that this study will help educational researchers obtain a better understanding of school processes and their impact on student

5 achievement as it attempts to advance the school culture literature and determine the construct validity of the Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) model at the middle school level. In addition, this study will seek to determine whether the K-8 or the 6-8 grade-level configuration have different academic achievement results as reported in previous research studies.

Research Questions The following research questions will be investigated in this study. These questions collectively provide the context and guidance for the dissertation: 1. Do K-8 schools have higher academic achievement than middle school (MS) at the 6th grade level?

2. Do K-8 schools have higher academic achievement than MS at the 8th grade level?

3. Is the Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) organizational culture model generalizable to both middle schools and K-8 schools?

4. Do the school culture factors have different effects in K-8 schools compared to MS in explaining achievement?

Addressing each of the above research questions will be accomplished via the following specific hypothesis (these will be elaborated further in Chapter 3): 1. K-8 students will have higher levels of achievement as evidenced by their CST test scores than MS students in 6th grade.

2. K-8 students will have higher levels of achievement as evidenced by their CST test scores than MS students in 8th grade.

3. The Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) model will fit well with data from both K-8 and MS teachers.

6 4. The magnitude of the direct and indirect effects in the Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) will be different for K-8 versus MS teachers leading to the following sub- hypotheses:

A. At K-8 schools, increased levels of collaboration, innovation and participation in decision making will lead to increased levels of teacher socialization and collegiality and result in higher school performance.

B. At K-8 schools, increased levels of collaboration, innovation and participation in decision making will lead to higher levels of teacher attitudes and result in higher school performance.

C. At K-8 schools, increased levels of social relationships, communication, and collegiality will lead to higher levels of teacher positive attitudes about their students and parents which will result in higher school performance.

D. At K-8 schools, increased levels of collaboration, encouragement for innovation, and participation in decision making will be associated in more available resources and higher responsive principal actions which will result in higher school performance because the teachers will have the available resources and collaboration time to better help their students.

E. At middle schools, higher levels of perceived bureaucracy and more directives from administration will be associated with lower organizational climate as teachers will not socialize or communicate positively nor collaborate amongst each other which will result in lower school performance.

Definitions The following list of terms will be used interchangeably throughout this dissertation:  School achievement will also be explained and referenced as school performance, academic achievement, and mean scaled CST scores.

 K-8 schools will also be known as ―elemiddle schools‖ (Hough, 2005).

 MS and junior high school designations will be used interchangeably.

 Young adolescents and MS students will be used to represent the same students.

7

 Culture is defined as the ―patterns of shared values and beliefs that over time produce behavioral norms adopted in solving problems‖ (Hofstede et al., 1990).

 The Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) model will also be known as the proposed model.

 Professional Learning Communities will be referred to as ―PLCs.‖

Overview The next five chapters will discuss the culture model, literature, data collection, analysis, and conclusions of the dissertation study. In particular, Chapter 2 focuses on the theory and conceptual framework. Chapter 3, the longest section, provides the literature review. Chapter 4 presents the study design and discusses the methodology. Chapter 5 displays the school districts and the number of teachers that completed the survey and presents tables of the direct and indirect path magnitudes across the K-8 and middle school groups. Finally, Chapter 6 explains the paths across the two groups, provides conclusions, implications for policy making, limitations, and suggestions for future research.

8 Chapter 2 Theoretical and Conceptual Framework Because this study utilized the a priori proposed Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) model and applied it to a different school level, throughout this dissertation a considerable number of references are made to their earlier work wherein they created and validated the examined model. In their original study of the culture model, Marcoulides and Heck (1993a) proposed and tested a model of organizational culture and examined how their concept of culture could make a difference in explaining and predicting for-profit organizational productivity. Their model asserted and demonstrated that organizational performance can be determined from knowledge of an organization‘s cultural environment. In a follow-up study, Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) subsequently applied the same model to schools and determined that teachers‘ and workers‘ perceptions of the culture of their schools, much like business culture, can predict organizational performance. Furthermore, Heck and Marcoulides (1996a) determined that certain cultural variables have different direct and indirect impacts on performance compared to the other variables in the model. Given these researchers‘ previous results with regards to the predictive aspects of the model, this study intends to determine if there are any differences between the direct and indirect effects of cultural variables on different school structures. The study will also examine how teachers‘ perceptions of culture explain performance in K-8 and middle schools by inspecting each school structure separately using the Heck and Marcoulides model.

9 Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) attempted to measure culture on two out of the traditionally augmented three visible fundamental levels of culture. Schein (1990) has indicated that the following three levels are essential when attempting to describe culture: 1. Visible artifacts: structure, technology, rules, stories, dress codes, schedule, etc.,

2. Organizational values, and

3. Underlying assumptions about the nature of organizational reality that are deeper manifestations of value.

Marcoulides and Heck (1993a) used the first two of these levels of culture as they stated that research on the third sublevel ―is more difficult, as these underlying assumptions cannot be directly observed and measured‖ (p. 78). In order to measure culture‘s visible artifacts and organizational values, Marcoulides and Heck (1993a) incorporated three components that together attempted to explain Schein‘s perception of culture. Marcoulides and Heck‘s (1993a) original model hypothesized that organizational culture consists of interrelated components similar to those that had been originally proposed by Allaire and Firsirotu (1984): 1. A socio-cultural system of the perceived functioning of the organization‘s tasks, strategies, and practices,

2. An organizational value system, and

3. The collective beliefs and attitudes of the individuals working within the organization (Marcoulides & Heck, 2005, p. 141).

Marcoulides et al. (2005), similar to Schein (1992), theorized that ―collectively, these three interrelated dimensions were found to affect performance in a variety of product- and service-oriented organizations‖ (p. 142). Allaire and Firsirotu‘s (1984) three

10 interrelated components were used to measure the above mentioned two visible levels of culture in the following manner: Schein (1990) Allaire and Firsirotu (1984) visible artifacts  perceptions of organization‘s tasks, strategies, practices

organizational values  organizational value system

organizational values  collective beliefs and attitudes of the individuals

Visible artifacts are actions that teachers can monitor and scrutinize whereas organizational values are teachers‘ ideas and opinions about how they feel about the organization. Perceptions of an organization‘s tasks, strategies, and practices are what Schein (1990) considers to be visible artifacts as teachers are able to observe and then rate the school‘s structure, results of the principal‘s decisions, and leadership practices. Allaire and Firsirotu‘s (1984) organizational value system and the teacher‘s collective beliefs and attitudes of the teachers, on the other hand, are both covered by Schein‘s (1990) organizational values as the fundamental level of culture as they (organizational value systems and the teachers‘ collective beliefs) are measured strictly by teachers‘ perceptions of the school‘s values as well as the beliefs of the school. Marcoulides and Heck (1993a) then developed five latent variables that attempted to explain Allaire and Firsirotu‘s (1984) three components. ―The model specifies five factors that together comprise visible aspects of school culture that, in concert, influence student achievement…As a group, the factors are viewed as loosely comprising students‘ perceptions of the three subsystems of school culture‖ (Marcoulides & Heck, 1993a, p. 142).

11 In order to determine the validity of the Marcoulides and Heck (1993a) original conceptual model, Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) created a survey instrument called The Organization of the School and Teacher Satisfaction with Their Work Environment: A Survey of Secondary School Teachers in Singapore (OSTSWE). This 42 question survey instrument measured five factors that collectively described Allaire and Firsirotu‘s (1984) three aforementioned interrelated subsystems to examine how student performance can be explained by organizational culture. Figure 2.1 depicts the original Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) proposed conceptual model. For simplicity, the figure includes only the factors or latent variables considered in the model. As a group, the factors are viewed as loosely comprising students‘ perceptions of the three subsystems of school culture (i.e., socio-cultural, organizational process, and individual beliefs) proposed by Allaire and Firsirotu (1984) in Marcoulides et al. (2005, p. 142). In this figure there are six ellipses which are used to represent the factor or latent variables. Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) described the paths of the conceptual model in the following manner: Organizational structure and organizational values are exogenous variables, in that factors outside the model determine their variability. We recognize that organizational structure and values are themselves dynamic processes. Because our data are cross-sectional, we reasoned that the school‘s structure and its values would be reflective of wider sets of cultural values in the environment and, thus, relatively stable at any one point in time. Organizational climate, managerial processes, and teacher attitudes are endogenous, in that other variables in the model determine their variability. The exogenous variables, therefore, indirectly affect organizational performance through the endogenous variables in the model (p. 80).

The exogenous variables do not have a direct path to the dependent variable (school performance), which implies that their effect was more indirect in terms of influencing

12 performance. Both the latent variables and the observed variables used to measure each latent variable are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.

Figure 2.1: Proposed Model of Organizational Culture and School Performance

The path diagrams of the model theoretically ―summarize a number of relevant findings between how teachers perceive aspects of school culture and school outcomes‖ and permit one to study the magnitude of the strongest and weakest direct and indirect effects on school performance (Heck & Marcoulides, 1996b, p. 88). The validity of the model has been shown in previous studies as various tests provide consistent support that the model‘s components explain performance in different situations. For example, the proposed model of the relationship of culture to organizational performance has been supported within the business model (Marcoulides Managerial

Processes

Organizational

Structure

Organizational

Values

Organizational

Climate

Teach er

Attitudes

School

Performance

13 & Heck, 1993a), within the school organization model (Heck & Marcoulides, 1996b), and once again at the school level with the students‘ perceptions (Marcoulides et al., 2005). Although these three above mentioned research studies all used the same conceptual model, they each presented and utilized different surveys to tap into the factors that were aligned to their particular research topic. These researchers were successful with their original goal which was ―to begin to develop a ‗roadmap‘ that suggests possible relationships among variables comprising organizational culture and to estimate their relative effects on performance‖ (Heck & Marcoulides, 1993, p. 213). Also, it is important to understand that both culture and climate are affected by different spheres of influence and researchers cannot simply investigate single spheres when attempting to explain outcomes.

14 Chapter 3 Literature Review

A History of Organizational Culture Researchers have attempted for many years to conceptualize the nature of the workplace culture in order to determine its relationship to the productivity and satisfaction of employees (Hoy, Hannum & Tschannen-Moran, 1998; Moran & Volkwein, 1992). This focus began in the 1950s when social science researchers such as Argyris (1954) studied variations in work environments within the banking system. His finding suggested that an atmosphere built on trust and openness would help unearth conflict and make it easier to implement changes that would improve the organization. Since the Argyris (1954) study, interest in organizational culture has blossomed and has been applied to several arenas, including the field of education. For this dissertation it is important to define culture and to collectively discuss the positive and negative outcomes of culture as the proposed model for this study contains five latent variables: organizational structure, organizational values, managerial processes, organizational climate, and teacher attitudes. Together, these five latent variables compose the researcher‘s conceptual model of how culture can be measured in any organization. Numerous researchers have proposed definitions of culture, consequently, there are different explanations of what comprises ―culture‖ that have evolved as culture has been studied from different perspectives and lenses. Because there are multiple definitions of culture that have gained support in the extant literature, it has been

15 somewhat difficult for researchers to come to a definitional consensus on what actually constitutes ―culture‖. Furthermore, empirical research on culture has been difficult to assess, primarily due to the vague parameters of what is implied by the term itself. Problems with empirical research on culture also include: 1. Previous research focused primarily on one element of culture, which ignores the multidimensional nature of the construct which is composed of several interrelated variables (Marcoulides & Heck, 1993),

2. Researchers are not sure whether culture reflects a ―cause-effect‖ type of relationship with performance.

For the purpose of this dissertation the definition of culture that will be used is that provided by Hofstede et al. (1990). Hofstede et al.‘s (1990) definition of organizational culture states that, culture is basically ―patterns of shared values and beliefs that over time produce behavioral norms adopted in solving problems‖ (p. 77). This definition is utilized in this dissertation because it specifically focuses on teacher perceptions (shared values and beliefs) of the school‘s behavioral norms. Empirical research on culture is particularly important because culture has been shown to be correlated to positive outcomes in different organizations. For example, researchers have found that school culture affects the morale, productivity, and satisfaction of teachers, consequently having a positive or negative effect on the long term learning environment of a school (Brown et al., 1999; Taylor et al., 1995). The culture that exists within a school can develop positive teacher relationships and attitudes that may translate into increased academic achievement (Heck, 2000; Holt & Smith, 2002; Hoy et al., 1998; Hoy et al., 1990; Lumsden, 1998; Sweetland & Hoy, 2000). Furthermore, Lumsden (1998) established that it is the principal who is most influential

16 in creating a school culture that impacts the morale of the teachers. Firestone and Louis (1999) and other researchers (Bossert et al., 1982; Hallinger & Heck, 1996; Heck et al., 1996a; Heck et al., 1992; Heck et al., 1990; Marcoulides et al., 1993; Ogawa & Bossert, 1995) concur and state that administrators can influence culture, the school‘s orderliness, and ensure that teachers focus on student achievement. However, administrators do not directly influence student outcomes because the administrators do not have daily instructional duty in the classroom. Rather, principals indirectly influence student performance through their instructional leadership behaviors (Heck et al., 1991; Metz, 1978). As stated earlier and explained in more depth in the theoretical framework section later, Heck and Marcoulides (1996b) used organizational climate as a subsystem of their conceptual model of how they measured culture. The proposed model used in this dissertation measures the school‘s culture by looking at the school‘s personality (climate). For this reason, the next section provide an extensive discussion of climate in order to better understand how it is used to measure the more global concept of culture that was used in this study.

Full document contains 140 pages
Abstract: American educators and researchers have spent decades attempting to determine the most effective middle level school configuration. Although various models have been conceptualized in order to resolve one of our most extensive educational reform movements, a recent nationwide increase in K-8 schools suggest interested parties have accepted the K-8 concept for its favorable results as compared to middle schools. Some of the positives of the K-8 concept include: greater involvement of parents and staff, higher achievement, higher student self-esteem, and fewer incidents of student misconduct reflecting a more positive school climate. Other research, however, has shown that grade level organization does not directly correlate to higher achievement and that school climate, organizational values, and teacher attitudes are more significant in explaining school performance. The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate the inconsistencies of past middle level research and determine if K-8 school configurations outperform middle schools in California. Findings partially support the construct validity of the originally-proposed Heck and Marcoulides model (1996b) across K-8 and MS structures and, demonstrate that K-8s outperform MS at the 8th grade level. Moreover, the study identified educationally important aspects of teacher-perceived cultural variables and how these perceptions collectively and specifically impact school performance in K-8 schools but not in middle schools. In order to develop higher achieving middle level schools, school leaders are encouraged to (1) prioritize team building strategies to empower staff, bolster collegiality, and allow the principal to focus on school performance, (2) connect parents to the school via meetings and workshops designed to improve parental support at home, and (3) dedicate time and resources for teachers to participate in decision-making and to discuss best teaching practices with their peers. These recommendations may apply to most school settings regardless of configuration. One problem with the MS structure may be that staff members have less time to develop relationships with students and their parents compared to the K-8 structure. Further, disparity in school performance can be attributed mostly to teacher perception differences of the school climate, teacher attitudes, and organizational values.