Ninth-Grade Success and College Readiness

Like all Network for College Success programs, our Ninth-Grade Success work is based on what we learned from cutting-edge research—and ideas we had for how data and school systems can be harnessed to improve student attainment.

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. The concept of being On-Track to Graduation–captured in an easy-to-use indicator called the 9th grade On-Track rate–entails freshmen students earning at least five credits and no more than one F in semester grades for core courses. The UChicago Consortium found that when freshmen suffer from high absence rates and course failure, it is difficult to recover their GPA in subsequent years. High school GPA can greatly affect a young person's likliehood of graduating from high school, as well as college enrollment and persistence. In fact, students who are off-track in ninth 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 who are 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 not only stay on-track but also achieve GPAs of 3.0 or better. We help schools develop a ninth grade team of teachers, administrators, and counselors that meets regularly to assess school and eduator practice, and how it affects student grades, attendance, and behavior. The team then uses continous 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 as well as ways to adapt their practice to better serve students. They compare notes on how students are doing in class, talk with students about challenges they are facing inside and outside of 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 freshmen grades. NCS helps the Ninth Grade Succss Teams get the most from these reports, supporting teams to: refine their practice and student interventions; evaluate students’ progress throughout the school year; and 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: the average Freshamn OnTrack rate in Chicago is 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. This is a phenomenal success in a District that 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 commited to addressing that disparity.

In 2014, NCS began offering Performance Management sessions to support not just Ninth Grade Success Teams, but also school leaders to think beyond mitigating course failure (Freshman OnTrack) 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.) as well as the proportion of those students earning a 3.0 GPA or better. Discussion and planning at the sessions helped schools use their own data and input and ideas from peers to create actionable plans to raise student performance and ultimately improve the readiness level of students 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 a year and we have added incoming (eight grade) student performance and attendance to the data sets.