The First Year of High School

Students‘ experiences in their first year of high school often determine their success throughout high school and beyond. Nevertheless, more students fail ninth grade than any other grade (Education Week, 2007). Students who make it to tenth grade but who are ?off track to graduate from high school—as indicated by failed grades, a lack of course credits, or poor attendance during their ninth grade gateway year—may have already missed the opportunity to get on track for high school graduation (Allensworth & Easton, 2005).

The following statistics highlight a noticeable trend in the lack of progress of many students through freshman year. Many students are held back in ninth grade—creating what is known as the ninth grade bulge—and drop out by tenth grade—contributing to the tenth grade dip.

U.S. Student Enrollment by Grade and Percentage of Total Enrollment, 2009–10 school year shows enrollment numbers for tenth grade at around 3.8 million—a decrease of 7.8% (Snyder & Dillow, 2011). The dip in the number of students in tenth grade reflects the large number of students who either do not advance to tenth grade or drop out after their ninth grade year.

  •   Twenty-one out of 50 states and the District of Columbia experience the greatest decrease in enrollment between the ninth and tenth grades. In some states, this decrease is as high as 25% (Snyder & Dillow, 2011).
  • There are pronounced racial disparities in the ninth grade bulge and tenth grade dip, as illustrated by data from the 2009–10 school year:
  •  For white students, during the 2009–10 school year, ninth grade enrollment was 8% higher than eighth grade enrollment, while attrition between ninth and tenth grades was stable at approximately 3% (NCES, n.d.-a).
  • For African-American students, ninth grade enrollment was 23% higher than eighth grade enrollment, and attrition between ninth and tenth grades was approximately 11% (NCES, n.d.-b).
  • For Hispanic students, ninth grade enrollment was 11% higher than eighth grade enrollment, and attrition between ninth and tenth grades was approximately 7% (NCES, n.d.-c).
  • Common predictors of ninth grade student dropout include:
  • Repeating the ninth grade: Up to 40% of ninth grade students in cities with the highest dropout rates repeat the ninth grade. Only 10–15% of those repeaters graduate from high school (Balfanz, 2006).
  • Low credit accrual: During the 2000–01 school year, students who dropped out in the tenth grade accrued only 59% of the credits accrued by on-time graduates (Hampden-Thompson, Warkentien, & Daniel, 2009).
  • Grade point average (GPA): In one Chicago study, student GPA was found to be an accurate predictor of student graduation for 80% of all students in the sample (Allensworth & Easton, 2007).
  • Low attendance rate: The same Chicago study found that fall semester attendance was an accurate predictor of student          graduation for 74% of all students in the sample (Allensworth &     Easton, 2007).
  • A failing score on the state English language arts or mathematics examination: A Texas study found that 82% of high school dropouts had failed the state exam in either reading or mathematics (Brunner, 2010).
  • For English Language Learners (ELLs), research shows ninth grade course performance to be a stronger predictor of high school   graduation than language proficiency (Gwynne, Pareja, Ehrlich, & Allensworth, 2012).
  • Similarly, among students with disabilities and those who entered high school two or more years below grade level, students who were on track at the end of the ninth grade were three to six times more likely to graduate than students who were off track (Gwynne, Lesnick, Hart, & Allensworth, 2009).
  •  Ninth Grade Transition Strategies ?School systems must support first-year high school students to help prevent the decline in grades and attendance that often characterize the ninth grade year (Barone, Aguirre-Deandreis, & Trickett, 1991).
  • Strategies include:
  1. The creation of ninth grade academies that are separate from the rest of the high school, or the creation of separate stand-alone schools (Reents, 2002). During the 2009–10 school year, 190 ninth grade-only schools were operating (NCES, n.d.-d).1
  1. A 2002 study showed that for schools in which transition programs are fully operational, the average dropout rate was 8%. Schools without transition programs averaged 24% (Reents, 2002).
  1. Career academies group students into smaller, themed-learning academies for two to four years, depending on the program. Students learn and take classes with the same group of students and are taught by a team of academically diverse teachers. In 2004, there were 4,800 high schools across the country that had at least one career academy (Brand, 2009).

Research indicates that there are 3 transitional years: 3rd grade, 6th grade and 9th grade.  Doesn’t it make sense to make those three grades smaller in class size so that teachers can assist students who need additional help?