Ninth-Grade Success and College Readiness

According to a series of groundbreaking studies from the UChicago Consortium on School Research (the UChicago Consortium), student success in the first year of high school is a critical indicator for graduation.

Being On-Track to Graduation–captured in an easy-to-use indicator called the 9th-grade On-Track rate–entails first-year students earning at least five credits and no more than one F in semester grades for core courses. The UChicago Consortium found that recovering GPA in subsequent years is challenging when first-year students suffer from high absence rates and course failure. In addition, a high school GPA can significantly affect a young person's likelihood of graduating from high school, college enrollment, and persistence. For example, students who are off-track in 9th-grade are much more likely to drop out even if they entered high school with high grades and test scores. On the other hand, students on-Track at the end of freshmen year are three times more likely to graduate from high school.

Using the UChicago Consortium research, NCS Coaches work with our partner schools to ensure students stay on-track AND achieve GPAs of 3.0 or better. We help schools develop a 9th-grade team of teachers, administrators, and counselors that meets regularly to assess school and educator practice and how it affects student grades, attendance, and behavior. The team then uses a continuous improvement approach to adopt new practices, or adapt or abandon existing practices. The team also determines interventions for groups of students at risk of falling off track and ways to adjust their practice to serve students better. They compare notes on how students are doing in class, talk with students about challenges they are facing inside and outside the school building, and connect students with academic or counseling supports designed to help them get back on-track. In addition, NCS Coaches provide on-site consultations and facilitate cross-school meetings so team members can problem-solve, work together, and share successful interventions within and across schools.

In 2009, the UChicago Consortium research on On-Track to Graduation prompted the Chicago Public Schools to create Freshmen Success reports for all high schools in the District. These reports provided school administrators with real-time data on first-year students' grades. NCS helps the Ninth Grade Success Teams get the most from these reports, supporting teams to:

  • Refine their practice and student interventions.
  • Evaluate students' progress throughout the school year.
  • Strengthen the team's capacity to lead this work.

Partnered with NCS, schools are making systemic changes to significantly improve the number of students graduating from high school by intervening early in ninth grade.

The results are clear, with Chicago's average Freshman On-Track rate now consistently at or above 90%. In some cases, NCS schools have increased On-Track rates by more than 20 percentage points, and drop-out rates are in the single digits. The District is also experiencing unprecedented graduation rates stemming from the ninth-grade work. These outcomes are a phenomenal success in a District that once had high school graduation rates in the 50s for decades.

College Readiness

Research by the UChicago Consortium has consistently shown that students with a minimum 3.0 GPA in high school are far more likely to succeed in and graduate from college. Yet, less than half of the graduating students in CPS have a 3.0 GPA or higher. NCS committed to addressing that disparity.

In 2014, NCS began offering Performance Management sessions to support Ninth Grade Success Teams and school leaders to think beyond mitigation of course failure (Freshman On-Track) and to work towards improving grades. In partnership with UChicago Consortium, NCS analyzed and presented student data from the schools, such as On-track rates by subsets (gender, race, attendance, etc.) and the proportion of those students earning a 3.0 GPA or better. Discussion and planning at the sessions helped schools use their data in tandem with input and ideas from peers to create actionable plans to raise student performance and ultimately improve students' readiness level for college.

This successful addition to the program quickly expanded due to demand and interest from the schools. NCS now facilitates quarterly Performance Management sessions each year, and we have added incoming (eighth-grade) student performance and attendance to the data sets.