New research from the Consortium on Chicago School Research provides a relatively easy to-do list for district leaders who want to see more students progress toward graduation. Melissa Roderick and company use real-time data to identify and monitor pupil performance at one intervention point: the ninth-grade transition. By looking at the on-track rate for ninth graders—a student is “on track” when he has enough credits to move to tenth grade and has no more than one F per semester in a core course—researchers found that between 2007 and 2013, the on-track rate rose 25 percentage points—from 57 to 82 percent. (That’s nearly 7,000 additional students who finish ninth grade and move onto tenth grade.) On-track rates improved for students across race and gender lines, too: African American males benefited the most, with an on-track rate increase from 43 percent to 71 percent. In public schools that showed large on-track increases as early as 2008 or 2009, the graduation rate three years later increased by at least eight percentage points. One school saw its graduation-rate increase by twenty percentage points. Chicago Public Schools school administrators and teachers monitored student performance and identified students at risk of falling behind the on-track rate for ninth graders. School leaders were flexible in how they used the data to intervene with students at risk of falling behind (but researchers don’t specify how school leaders intervened with students). Three cheers for research that shows significant results and provides education leaders with strategies that can help students stay on track in the ninth grade and beyond. But knowing exactly how school leaders used this data could help other districts benefit, too.

Melissa Roderick, Thomas Kelley-Kemple, David W. Johnson, and Nicole O. Beechum, Preventable Failure: Improvements in Long-Term Outcomes when High Schools Focused on the Ninth Grade Year (Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, April 2014).

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