Students who perform poorly at the beginning of high school are less likely to finish. In fact, some research suggests that students who complete the ninth grade “on track”—with enough credits to be promoted and limited failures in core classes—are four times more likely to graduate high school. In light of this trend, in 2007 the city of Chicago began a system-wide effort to increase the number of ninth grade students on track. The district has since seen dramatic improvements, but it is still unclear whether those will translate into improved graduation rates, or if they simply reflect better ninth grade statistics. Through this lens, Roderick and Farrington will test alternative theories regarding why on-track ninth graders may have higher graduation rates, and whether any school improvements are associated with changes in student performance and behavior. They will investigate three critical areas: (1) whether school strategies help keep students on track, (2) how conditions within and across schools affect the success of these strategies, and (3) the mechanisms underlying the association between on-track status in ninth grade with students’ subsequent performance and graduation. To accomplish this, the investigators will conduct a mixed-methods, longitudinal study of the on-track rates for 225,000 first-time ninth-graders entering 72 Chicago public schools between 2004 and 2012. They will also examine a qualitative sample of three population-matched pairs in which one high school has demonstrated substantial increases in its on-track rate while the other has a below-average on-track rate. The investigators will compare students’ academic performance at the beginning of the ninth grade to their on-track status over time. They will use academic transcripts, administrative records, and student and teacher surveys.
Roderick and Farrington will test alternative theories regarding why on-track ninth graders may have higher graduation rates, and whether any school improvements are associated with changes in student performance and behavior.