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Eight-Year Study

Purpose, Method, Results

The Eight-Year Study (also known as the Thirty-School Study) was an experimental project conducted between 1930 to 1942 by the Progressive Education Association (PEA), in which thirty high schools redesigned their curriculum while initiating innovative practices in student testing, program assessment, student guidance, curriculum design, and staff development.


By the late 1920s the members of PEA acknowledged that only one out of six American high school students continued on to college, yet conventional college preparation programs still dominated the basic course of study at the secondary school level. Seeking to address the needs of non-college-bound students while also providing better coordination between high schools and colleges for those students who continued their postsecondary education, the PEA initiated in 1930 the first of three Eight-Year Study commissions, the Commission on the Relation of School and College (also known as the Aikin Commission), chaired by Wilford Aikin. The purpose of the commission was to foster relations between schools and colleges that would permit experimentation of the secondary school curriculum and would address how the high school could serve youth more effectively.

The Aikin Commission proceeded to select approximately thirty schools (including some school systems) that were freed to revise their secondary curriculum. Over 250 colleges agreed to suspend their admissions requirements for graduates of the participating high schools, and alternative forms of documentation were provided by the secondary schools for college admission. All of these secondary schools did not embrace Progressive Education practices, however. While some of the most progressive schools in the country participated, including Denver's public high schools, Chicago's Parker School, New York's Lincoln School, Ohio State University's Laboratory School, Des Moines's Roosevelt High School, and Tulsa's Central High School, other participating secondary schools displayed few progressive practices and little interest in experimenting with their curriculum.


During the initial years of the study, each school staff developed its own curricular program–core curriculum–which sought to integrate and unify the separate academic subjects. A series of innovative staff-development workshops were scheduled beginning in 1936 to assist teachers in reconsidering the basic goals and philosophy of their specific school and to support the development of their own teaching materials. The Aikin Commission coordinated the Follow-Up (evaluation) Study and selected 1,475 students to follow from high school into college. These Progressive school graduates were matched with graduates from traditional secondary school programs, and the pairs of students were evaluated as they proceeded through college. In comparison to their counterparts, the Progressive school graduates performed comparably well academically and were substantially more involved and successful in cultural and artistic activities. The Follow-Up Study also concluded that graduates from these thirty experimental schools did not experience any impairment in their college preparation. The Eight-Year Study confirmed that schools could experiment with the curriculum while attending to the needs of all students, and in so doing, those college-bound graduates would not be ill-prepared. The Commission on the Relation of School and College released a five-volume report in 1942, titled Adventures in Learning, which described the curriculum and evaluation of the schools.

As the Aikin Commission worked with school and college staff, the Commission on Secondary School Curriculum (also known as the Thayer Commission), chaired by V. T. Thayer, was formed in 1932 to develop curriculum materials for the participating schools. The Thayer Commission recognized that further study of youth needed to be undertaken, and within the auspices of this PEA commission, the Study of Adolescents was conducted. Between 1937 and 1940, five volumes of curriculum materials aligned to the traditional subject areas of general education (science, mathematics, social studies, arts, and language) and an additional six volumes encompassing the study of adolescence were published. A third PEA commission, the Commission on Human Relations (also known as the Keliher Commission) formed in 1935, prepared social-science-related curriculum materials–incorporating the then-innovative use of motion pictures–and examined those human problems faced by youth. Six volumes were released by the Keliher Commission between 1938 and 1943, some written directly for high school students and others written for professional educators who sought to integrate the school curriculum around the needs, interests, and problems of youth. Membership among these three commissions overlapped greatly and are now viewed as integral components of the Eight-Year Study.


To correct a general misconception, the Aikin Commission's Follow-Up Study was not the sole purpose of the Eight-Year Study. Important outcomes of the Eight-Year Study included developing more sophisticated student tests and forms of assessment; innovative adolescent study techniques; and novel programs of curriculum design, instruction, teacher education, and staff development. Moreover, the Eight-Year Study proved that many different forms of secondary curricular design can ensure college success and that the high school need not be chained to a college preparatory curriculum. In fact, students from the most experimental, nonstandard schools earned markedly higher academic achievement rates than their traditional school counterparts and other Progressive-prepared students.


AIKIN, WILFORD. 1942. The Story of the Eight-Year Study. New York: Harper.

AMERICAN EDUCATION FELLOWSHIP. 1938. Science in General Education. New York: Appleton-Century.

BLOS, PETER. 1941. The Adolescent Personality. New York: Appleton-Century.

CHAMBERLIN, DEAN; CHAMBERLIN, ENID S.; DROUGHT, NEAL E.; and SCOTT, WILLIAM E. 1942. Did They Succeed in College? New York: Harper.

COMMISSION ON RELATION OF SCHOOL AND COLLEGE. 1942. Thirty Schools Tell Their Story. New York: Harper.

COMMISSION ON SECONDARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM. 1940. Language in General Education. New York: Appleton-Century.

COMMISSION ON SECONDARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM. 1940. Mathematics in General Education. New York: Appleton-Century.

COMMISSION ON SECONDARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM. 1940. The Social Studies in General Education. New York: Appleton-Century.

COMMISSION ON SECONDARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM. 1940. The Visual Arts in General Education. New York: Appleton-Century.

CONRAD, LAWRENCE H. 1937. Teaching Creative Writing. New York: Appleton-Century.

GILES, H. H.; McCUTCHEN, S. P.; and ZECHIEL, A. N. 1942. Exploring the Curriculum. New York: Harper.

LANGER, WALTER C. 1943. Psychology and Human Living. New York: Appleton-Century.

LENROW, ELBERT. 1940. Reader's Guide to Prose Fiction. New York: Appleton-Century.

MEEK, LOIS H. 1940. The Personal-Social Development of Boys and Girls with Implications for Secondary Education. New York: Appleton-Century.

ROSENBLATT, LOUISE M. 1938. Literature as Exploration. New York: Appleton-Century.

SMITH, EUGENE R.; TYLER, RALPH W.; and EVALUATION STAFF. 1942. Appraising and Recording Student Progress. New York: Harper.

STERN, BERNHARD J. 1938. The Family, Past and Present. New York: Appleton-Century.

TAYLOR, KATHERINE WHITESIDE. 1938. Do Adolescents Need Parents? New York: Appleton-Century.

THAYER, VIVIAN T.; ZACHRY, CAROLINE B.; and KOTINSKY, RUTH. 1939. Reorganizing Secondary Education. New York: Appleton-Century.

WUNSCH, W. ROBERT, and ALBERS, EDWIN, eds. 1939. Thicker Than Water. New York: Appleton-Century.

ZACHRY, CAROLINE B., and LIGHTY, MARGARET E. 1940. Emotion and Conduct in Adolescence. New York: Appleton-Century.


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