VOL. 19 / NO. 1 / SPRING 2009
Falling O Track during the Transition to High School: What We Know and What Can Be Done
Evidence is growing that students who allo track during the reshman year have very low odds o earning a high school diploma.
Indeed, analysis o the progression o stu-dents through high school suggests thatapproximately one-third o the nation’s recenthigh school dropouts never were promotedbeyond ninth grade.
For policymakers andeducators, then, the task o increasing highschool graduation rates necessitates a seriouslook at which students experience trouble inninth grade, the reasons or their diculty,and what the research evidence reveals abouthow to help them stay on the pathway tograduation.
Defning What It Means to Be O Track or Graduation
The most basic denition o being o trackor graduation is not having earned sucientcourse credits in the normally allotted time.
From the moment that students enter ninthgrade as rst-time reshmen, their undamen-tal task is to earn credits toward graduationby passing their classes.
In many school dis-tricts, high school students must earn specicnumbers and types o credits (or example,one credit in mathematics, one credit inEnglish) to be promoted to the next grade.School districts set their own standards orpromotion to the next grade, and promotionrequirements vary rom one district toanother. Some o this variation is evident inpromotion standards in the largest schooldistricts. For example, students in theMiami–Dade Public Schools are required toearn our ull-year credits, including eithermath or English, or promotion to tenthgrade. Ninth graders in the Chicago PublicSchools ace stricter requirements; they mustpass three o their core subject courses andearn at least ve ull-year credits towardgraduation to be promoted to tenth grade.Freshmen in the District o Columbia PublicSchools must earn six credits, includingEnglish and Algebra I.
Comprehensive national evidence is not avail-able on the number o school districts thathave grade-to-grade promotion standards atthe high school level or on the nature o thosepromotion requirements. A cursory perusalo the promotion policies in large districtssuggests that passing ve ull-year courses isa common standard or promotion to tenthgrade. However, given the above examples o cross-district variation in promotion stan-dards, one ought not to iner that a studentnecessarily is on track to graduation merely because she is classied as a tenth graderduring her second year o high school. Fordistricts and schools seeking to determine which ninth graders have gotten o track tograduation, a more inormative indicator is whether the student has earned course cred-its in all or most o the classes taken duringthe ninth-grade year.
Getting O Track in Ninth Grade:Educational Consequences
There are obvious short-term educationalconsequences or ninth graders who all o track to graduation. At a minimum, becauseailed courses must be retaken, the graduationdate will be deerred unless the studentredoubles his eorts to earn the missingcredits in time to graduate with his cohort.However, one o the most compelling reasonsor ocusing on ninth grade is the evidencethat getting o track at that point has negativelong-term educational consequences. Thestrongest evidence o these consequencescomes rom large urban districts with studentdatabases that allow researchers to track theeducational progress o individual studentsrom year to year.