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Ruth Curran Neild and 9th Grade

Ruth Curran Neild and 9th Grade

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Published by harisreenivasan
the importance of transition years
the importance of transition years

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Published by: harisreenivasan on Nov 25, 2011
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Falling O Track during the Transition to High School: What We Know and What Can Be Done
VOL. 19 / NO. 1 / SPRING 2009
53
Falling Off Track during the Transition toHigh School: What We Know and WhatCan Be Done
Ruth Curran Neild
Summary 
Ninth grade, observes Ruth Curran Neild, marks a critical juncture in American schooling.Students who manage the academic demands o the transition to high school have a high prob-ability o graduating our years later. But those who do not—who ail to earn as many creditsas they should during ninth grade—ace a substantially elevated risk o dropping out o highschool.Neild examines our theories about why ninth grade poses diculties or some students. Therst is that ninth grade coincides with lie-course changes, such as reduced parental supervisionand increased peer infuence. The second is that in moving to a new school, students must breakthe bonds they have ormed with their middle-school teachers and peers. The third is that somestudents are inadequately prepared or high school. The nal theory is that the organization o some high schools is itsel a major source o students’ diculty. Each theory, says Neild, suggestsa particular type o policy response.The strongest evidence, observes Neild, points to inadequate preparation or high school andthe organization o high schools. Reorm eorts thus ar have tended to address high schoolorganization, with or without a ocus on instructional quality or helping students to catch up onacademic skills. Evaluations o these reorms, says Neild, suggest that both school organizationand instructional improvement are necessary to keep ninth graders on track to graduation.Neild notes that school districts and state departments o education also are addressing theproblem. In addition to supporting comprehensive school reorm with a ocus on ninth graders,districts have created accountability indicators o how well high schools are keeping ninth grad-ers on track. States are helping districts to develop their capacity to maintain and analyze dataon ninth-grade progress, including “early warning indicator systems” that identiy students whoare alling o track to graduation.
 www.utureochildren.org
Ruth Curran Neild is a research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University.
 
54
THE FUTURE OF CHILDREN
Ruth Curran Neild
A
s American students progressthrough the K–12 educationalsystem, they encounter severalkey transition points. Thesetransitions generally coincide with the commencement o a new levelo schooling: the beginning o elementary school, the move to the middle grades, thestart o the high school years. Transitions inschooling are moments o great promise orchildren, holding the potential or personalgrowth, new learning, and greater indepen-dence and responsibility. At the same time, asany parent will attest who ever has watcheda child disappear through the schoolhousedoor or the rst time, school transitions aremoments o peril. Students who do not navi-gate a school transition well ace the possibil-ity o personal and academic turmoil and evenalling o track or promotion and graduation.The entrance to ninth grade marks one suchcritical juncture in American schooling. For80 percent o ninth graders attending publicschools in the United States, the eighth- toninth-grade move is a literal one, involvingthe switch rom an elementary or middleschool to a high school with a 9–12 gradestructure.
1
Regardless o whether a change o school occurs, ninth grade is widely under-stood to mark the beginning o the highschool years and to usher in a new set o aca-demic expectations. From states’ high schooldiploma standards, which typically assumethat the task o earning course credits towardgraduation begins in ninth grade, we caniner that the K–12 educational system viewsninth grade as a new level o schooling.
2
 The entrance to ninth grade also may serveas a social marker, signaling to parents thatthe young person deserves greater indepen-dence and to peers that the student is worthy o inclusion in the social activities o olderadolescents.
3
Entering ninth grade, then, may be thought o as a transition to a new stagein the lie course as much as a transition to anew school.The high schools that serve the majority o American students in grades nine to twelvehave long been aware o the anxiety andconusion associated with starting ninth grade.In response, they have sought to make ninthgraders more comortable by organizing pro-grams and activities that will help reshmennd their way around an unamiliar schoolbuilding, tackle more challenging academicmaterial, and negotiate the more complexadolescent social scene.
4
Many students adjustto ninth grade with only minor diculty andsteadily earn course credits toward gradua-tion. For some students, high school providesan academic and social experience that is a vast improvement over the middle grades.For example, ninth grade can mark the pointat which some students begin to establish apersonally ullling social identity. Amongstudents who received grades o mostly Cor lower on their eighth-grade report cards,attending a high school with ewer classmatesrom eighth grade is associated with higherreshman grades, suggesting that there may be some benet to starting anew with a dier-ent set o peers and teachers.
5
 In this article I ocus not on the students who experience rather minor stress associ-ated with starting high school or or whomhigh school represents a welcome relie romthe middle grades, but rather on the subseto students or whom the transition to ninthgrade is marked by the ailure to stay on trackto high school graduation.
6
As early as therst and second report periods, these studentsreceive ailing grades in some or all o theircourses. By the end o the school year, they have not accumulated enough course creditsto be promoted to tenth grade.
 
VOL. 19 / NO. 1 / SPRING 2009
55
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.
7
 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.
8
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 diculty,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 denition o being o trackor graduation is not having earned sucientcourse credits in the normally allotted time.
9
 From the moment that students enter ninthgrade as rst-time reshmen, their undamen-tal task is to earn credits toward graduationby passing their classes.
10
In many school dis-tricts, high school students must earn specicnumbers 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.
11
 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 iner that a studentnecessarily is on track to graduation merely because she is classied 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 inormative 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, becauseailed courses must be retaken, the graduationdate will be deerred unless the studentredoubles his eorts to earn the missingcredits in time to graduate with his cohort.However, one o the most compelling reasonsor 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 studentsrom year to year.

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