Study: Tracking 9th graders prevents dropouts

Tracking ninth graders’ progress reduced dropout rates in Chicago schools, reports Education Week. Teachers intervened — calling home to report missed classes, helping with homework and other strategies — before students fell too far behind, according to Preventable Failure, a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

The number of students deemed to be “on-track” for graduation has risen from 57 percent in 2007 to 82 percent in 2013. Grades have improved for low, average and high achievers.

Following  the graduation rates of students at 20 schools, the study found that student gains in the 9th grade continued through the 10th and 11th grades, resulting in increases in the graduation rate ranging from 8 to 20 percentage points in schools that saw early improvements, to up to 13 percentage points in schools that showed improvements later.

African-American males and students with the weakest skills improved the most.

An “on-track” ninth grader has failed no more than one core subject and earned enough credits to be promoted to the 10th grade.

Graduation rates are climbing in Chicago, notes Ed Week. “Last year the city trumpeted its 65.4 percent graduation rate, a figure that surpassed 2013’s 61.2 percent rate and was significantly higher than the 44 percent rate of nearly a decade ago.”

Ninth grade is the “make-it-or-break-it” year for high school students, concludes a second University of Chicago Consortium study, Free to Fail or On-Track to College.

All students struggle with the transition from middle school to high school, the study found. Grades decline significantly, often because students cut school more and study less. But closer monitoring makes a difference, researchers found.

 (One) school rearranged the school day, scheduling the advisory period as the first class of the day so that tardiness would not become an issue. A teacher also called home every time a student missed class. And the school implemented a discipline policy that relied less on suspensions. Another school reached out to students who received Fs during the semester to find out why they were failing and craft a plan to get them back on track.

It’s easier for small schools to keep track of all students, but Chicago is doing it in larger schools too.

9th grade: dropout year

Ninth-grade gridlock is keeping boys out of college, writes Richard Whitmire of Why Boys Fail. Boys who fall behind and repeat ninth grade never catch up. For many, ninth grade is now the “dropout year.”

Nationally there were 113 boys for every 100 girls in ninth grade in 2007, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. A Johns Hopkins study finds 12 percent of boys and 9 percent of girls repeated ninth grade in 2006-07.

. . . Baltimore’s Patterson High School, located in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. If you showed up to recruit the Class of 2009 on graduation day, you would have found 164 female and 107 male students. A quirk of birthrates? Not exactly. Had you checked on the ninth-grade class there in September 2008, you would have found 278 girls and 400 boys.

. . . In the highest-poverty school districts, as few as 15 percent of students held back in the ninth grade make it to graduation day, according to other research from Johns Hopkins.

Of course, passing those failing boys (and girls) on to 10th grade is no guarantee of success. I think we need catch-up middle schools that prepare kids for high school. And we need a vocational alternative for kids who lack the skills and motivation to pass college-prep classes.

Ninth grade: Make or break

Ninth grade is the make or break year for students, reports the Portland Oregonian. Of those who earn 5.5 credits of a possible six, 78 percent will go on to earn a diploma. Only 20 percent of students who finish ninth grade with 5 or fewer credits will graduate.

Portland schools are offering “smaller classes, reinforcement in reading and math and personal follow-ups with students who miss class the most” in hopes of keeping low-performing ninth graders on track.

Samantha Steadman goes to Tigard High, which enrolled her in summer school before ninth grade.

. . . she has David Tolbert, a teacher who sees her for a support class every other day.  . . . He knows Sam’s story, including her history of getting in fights and trying drugs, her struggles with spelling and reading.

Tolbert preaches a constant drumbeat of what Sam needs to do and offers her advice and help to complete assignments, turn in homework and work out conflicts with teachers.

Finally, Sam has linguistics class with Marc Jolley.

. . . Jolley’s class targets a hard-core group: Students who’ve reached high school after years of frustration and failure because they read and write at only about a fifth-grade level.

Sam and 18 other students spend 90 minutes with Jolley every day — twice as much as other students spend in freshman English classes.

. . . The material is unrelenting. But these students are on it. Jolley says that’s because they quickly figure out that nose-to-the-grindstone learning in this class pays off.

It’s helping, claims a BridgeSpan report.  Here’s the podcast.

Is ninth grade too late? Failure starts in fourth grade, says an educator of dropouts in this AP story.