Improvements When High Schools Focus on Ninth Grade

Posted by University of Chicago on May 5, 2014

A new report from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research examines dramatic improvements for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students exposed to a targeted approach for reducing course failure in the ninth grade. Much of the work coalesced around an “on-track” indicator, developed by UChicago CCSR and providing a simple quantitative measure of whether ninth-graders making adequate progress to graduation based on credit completion and course failures. Specifically, a student is “on-track” if she has enough credits to be promoted to tenth grade and has earned no more than one semester F in a core course. Between 2007 and 2013, the CPS on-track rate rose 25 percentage points, from 57 to 82 percent, an estimated 6,900 additional students finishing ninth grade each year without significant course failures and with sufficient credits to become sophomores. These improvements occurred across all racial and ethnic groups, among males and females, and across all levels of incoming achievement. Improvements were sustained in tenth and eleventh grade, and followed by a large increase in graduation rates. By reframing the problem of dropping out from something outside the control of educators to one that can be managed through effective school-based strategies, Chicago’s on-track initiative is a case study on using data to build the capacity of educators to manage complex problems and create systems of continuous improvement.

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