November 9, 2009

Report looks at ninth-grade retention rates, early intervention

More than 90,000 students in six states repeated ninth grade in 2004–2005, with nearly three in 10 students repeating in one of them, according to a new report from the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

“Still a Freshman: Examining the Prevalence and Characteristics of Ninth-Grade Retention Across Six States” introduces a new measure—the first-time ninth-grade estimate—to study ninth-grade retention rates that can help teachers and administrators identify and help students while there is time to keep them on the graduation path. The report also looks at students who are repeating ninth grade by school size, location, percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, race/ethnicity and pupil/teacher ratio.

The states are Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

Because states do not distinguish between repeat and first-time ninth-graders when they report fall enrollments, the estimate is based on adjusted counts of first-time ninth-graders used by the states to calculate graduation rates, explained the report’s author, Thomas C. West, a senior research analyst at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The estimate is calculated by dividing the adjusted number of first-time ninth-graders from the graduation rate by the total number of ninth-grade students reported for the same school year. The study focuses on the Class of 2008, whose members were ninth-graders in 2004–2005.

The six states were chosen because they used the same method to calculate graduation rates for the Class of 2008 and because they represented not only the areas producing the most dropouts but also those with average dropout rates, showing that the new measure is reliable in different conditions.

Ninth grade is found to be a critical year because students who are not successful often drop out. Most schools and districts depend on graduation rates to measure student success, but the rates are reported too late to get help to students who need it.

Other findings include:

In South Carolina, more than 40 percent of high schools had ninth-grade retention rates above 30 percent; in Massachusetts, New York, Indiana and Virginia, 5 percent to 8 percent of the schools had retention rates above 30 percent.

Nearly three in 10 students repeated ninth grade in South Carolina, two in 10 in North Carolina, one in 10 in Massachusetts and slightly more than 10 percent in New York, Indiana and Virginia.

In Massachusetts, New York, Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina, more than one-third of the students attended schools with first-time ninth-grade estimates below the state average; in South Carolina, more than two-thirds of the students did.

As concentrations of poor and minority students increase in a school, the percentage of students repeating ninth grade also rises.

The value of this new measure is in identifying struggling students early enough to get them help, West said. If states and districts were asked to report the enrollments for both first-time and repeating ninth-graders as of Oct. 1 of each school year, administrators would know if they had a population of students who need assistance long before those students became part of the graduation—or dropout—rate, he said.

The complete report is available at www Data from Colorado, New Mexico and Rhode Island are also available there.

The Everyone Graduates Center, located at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins, seeks to identify the barriers that keep students from graduating high school prepared for adult success, develop ways to overcome these barriers and build local capacity to implement and sustain them.                          —Mary Maushard