Transitioning to Middle School in the Sixth Grade: A Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) Analysis of Substance Use, Violence, and Suicidal Thoughts

Whitney D. Gunter, Western Michigan University
Nicholas W. Bakken, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse


In recent years, public schools have moved away from traditional grade configurations

with junior high schools and have shifted towards integrating sixth grade students into middle

schools. It has been argued that the effect this will have on students is to allow for additional

freedom and earlier social growth. However, the counterargument to this debate is that these sixth grade students would then be exposed to an older cohort sooner and therefore would be exposed to negative peer influences. This study investigates the behavioral differences between sixth grade students in elementary schools and their counterparts in middle schools, including suicidal thoughts, violence, and substance abuse. The data used come from the 2007 middle school Delaware Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Results indicate significant differences in suicidal thoughts/actions based on the grade configuration of school they attend, though not in violence or substance use.