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Ensuring Successful Student Transitions from the Middle Grades to High School

The 9th grade year is critical to students' success in high school — the influence of a broader number of peers (both positive and negative); the potential of developing bad habits such as skipping class; and entry into a larger, sometimes seemingly less caring, environment can all impact how students will react.

What does the research say about this transition?

Predictors of failure in high school:

  • Each course failed in 8th grade increases the odds of non-promotion from 9th to 10th grade by 16%.2
  • Students who are 15 years or older when they enter high school are at a greater risk of non-promotion, even controlling for previous academic achievement and attendance.3
  • Although 8th-grade test scores are good predictors of students' likelihood to do well in high school courses, course attendance is eight times more predictive of course failure in the freshman year.4

Predictors of success in high school:

  • Each additional percentage point increase in attendance decreases the odds of repeating 9th grade by 5%.5
  • Higher-achieving students are considerably less likely to experience non-promotion in 9th grade.6
  • The higher the number of credits a student attempts in 9th grade, the lower the odds of not being promoted to 10th grade.7
  • Students attend class more often when they have strong relationships with their teachers, and when they see school and their coursework as relevant and important to their future.8

Students' worries and fears:

The increased number of students on a large high school campus can create:

  • Fear and trepidation
  • Feelings of being lost and not being connected
  • A strong sense of anxiety, resulting from newfound anonymity.9

It is important to note that worries and fears can differ by gender with girls' concerns focused on academic adjustments, while boys' concerns more social/safety oriented.

The importance of a systemic policy approach to 9th grade transition:

Programmatic approaches to addressing dropping out are popular because they are easier to implement than systemic reforms, and they target students who clearly need support. But besides being impractical in schools where most students go off-track, they rarely are found to be effective. A 'second chance' or 'skimming off' strategy does little for students at risk for future failure, and it does not address problems of average and high-performing students performing below their potential. Too many disconnected programs can also decrease coherence in the instructional program of the school. Flexibility and tailored programs for a few students should not substitute for critical evaluation of schools' instructional programming, and all programs should be developed to align coherently with the general instructional plan of the school.10

Expert recommendations

Expert Robert Cooper and Suzanne Markoe-Hayes of the University of California Los Angeles have been engaged in an ongoing study dedicated to developing and evaluating a transition model that creates a college-going culture among 9th grade students.11 In a 2005 report, they offer four policy recommendations to facilitate effective and successful transitions from middle school to high school and ultimately lead to high school graduation:

  1. Allocate resources to support and oversee the 9th-grade transition
    Within many urban communities, resource allocation disadvantages incoming 9th grade students. The focus and priority of many schools is placed on juniors and seniors as they prepare for graduation.

  2. Fund programs that create intentional opportunities for positive peer network development
    Students in the Cooper/Markoe-Hayes study report that in high school peer group association is far more influential than the family or the school. While a student's behavior is constrained by school and family rules and regulations, his/her attitudes, ideas and options are not. However, the cumulative influences of family and school are not negated by the strong influence of peer networks; rather, they exist in constant competition. Students in the study who were more successful in negotiating a balance between the competing spheres of influence were those students who reported early success in their academic pursuits. The challenge of negotiating these multiple influences is heightened for many urban students because of their doubly marginalized status of being both poor and of color.

  3. Educate families about the importance of the 9th-grade transition
    When parents have not had formal or positive educational experiences, it is difficult for them to properly guide their child in the process. The importance of a smooth transition from 8th grade to 9th grade cannot be emphasized enough, as this transition will determine a student's success in high school as well as decisions about their post-secondary school life. Therefore, there must be an effort made to inform parents of the importance of this transition, especially those who have no formal educational training at this level.

  4. Urban schools must place an explicit focus on "over-determining" success
    Over-determining success is an idea that, while many evidence-based activities and programs can stand alone and lead to enhanced outcomes, when placed together they can have a multiplied effect on student success. Over-determining success involves creating (and in the case of many 9th graders, exposing them to) opportunities to participate in multiple, evidenced-based activities and programs that enhance academic success and college awareness. Such activities would include cultural and social skill-enrichment, mentoring and access to technology.
    Schools must be able to demonstrate to students the importance, advantages and realities of postsecondary education by providing an explicit focus on "over-determining" success. Over-determining success consists of providing students with the resources and information necessary to pursue postsecondary education in amounts that exceed those usually considered to be adequate to accomplish such a goal. Students must be encouraged and prepared to move beyond the educational levels of their families and reconcile both their fears of failure and fears of success. Urban schools must work in partnerships with families to build supportive and nurturing, yet challenging learning environments that help students transition into high school, college and beyond with ease.

What might supportive approaches and policies look like?

Allocate resources to support and oversee the 9th-grade transition

Dollars might be targeted toward summer "catch-up" programs or other interventions for students who have not achieved at grade level. States might choose to provide incentives for schools that put their best teachers in 9th grade or that provide double doses of math and reading. Examples of these and other approaches are described below.

Washington State's Project Graduation includes:

  • A "Gear Up" program to identify 7th- and 8th-grade students needing help
  • Four- to six-week summer program for identified incoming high school students
  • Extra help to students by providing double doses of math and reading/literacy
  • Monitoring through meaningful advisory programs such as an "Advocate" for every family
  • A goal of an annual increase in the number of students taking Algebra I in 8th grade
  • Lower teacher student ratio in 9th grade - and the best teachers in 9th Grade
  • 9th grade teachers with common planning time
  • Transition classes for English and mathematics using a block schedule structure
  • Career and technical education courses in 9th grade using a block schedule structure.

Hawaii's 2006-10 P-20 strategic plan includes a recommendation to "ensure that 9th-grade students receive the instructional and support services necessary for successful completion of high school." Suggested means of doing so include utilizing smaller "learning communities," increasing access to tutoring and academic summer camps, and creating a Web site to provide "one-stop" access to information about postsecondary institutions.

Rhode Island policy targets districts with a dropout rate over 15%. Such districts are subject to state department suggestions for specific methods of targeted interventions for students who fail Algebra I or any 9th-grade math class and have insufficient credits to be promoted.

South Carolina recently authorized middle schools to give the high-school-level end-of-course tests to middle schoolers who enroll in, say, Algebra I. Doing so should help reinforce the importance of students' academic efforts, as end-of-course results count toward graduation.

According to a Vermont 2002 department of education publication on high school reform, "students learn best when they are in a physically, emotionally and intellectually safe and respectful environment." One of the recommendations of the report is to develop freshman academies and transition programs to assist entering 9th graders.

Oklahoma's H.B. 2367 (enacted in 2006) allows districts to adopt an extended-day schedule for grades 9-12. A meaningful piece of this policy requires revocation of authorization for a program if student achievement is not documented.

Fund programs that create intentional opportunities for positive peer network development

Fiscal incentives, for example, could be targeted to schools that address attendance issues head on and that create freshman academies where 9th graders study and work as a common group — where students can be exposed to high-level curriculum but are provided with necessary support to succeed.

The Louisiana legislature approved a 2008 measure requiring the state board to develop methods of targeted intervention or to identify other appropriate existing methods for districts with a four-year cohort graduation rate below 70%. This might include early intervention for students who are at risk of failing Algebra I or any 9th-grade math class, credit recovery or targeting students with attention from graduation coaches in high school. The bill also asks the state board to gather data such as the total number of students who have failed Algebra I or English I, the total number of students who are repeating the 9th grade and the total number of students required to repeat a 9th-grade course.

Florida's Middle School Reform Act (2004) includes provisions that emphasize the importance of planning in middle school; the importance of student accountability in 8th grade; and the importance of grades in 9th grade. The act also focuses on the importance of attendance and encourages the establishment of freshman academies.

Nevada state policy requires the board of trustees of each school district to develop policies to ensure that all high schools with 1,200 students or more provide small learning communities within the school. Such policies are supposed to require guidance counselors, at least one licensed school administrator and appropriate adult mentors to be assigned to 9th graders. The school must also:

  • Designate a separate area within the high school for 9th graders to attend class.
  • Collect and maintain information on 9th graders, including credits earned, attendance, truancy and other risk indicators.
  • Identify special needs of 9th graders with respect to remediation and counseling.

Educate families about the importance of the 9th-grade transition

One way to educate families about the importance of the 9th-grade transition might be to require that students and their parents are given information on colleges' entrance expectations - minimum coursework requirements, GPA, etc. - preferably as early as the middle grades, if not earlier, but absolutely at the beginning of high school.

Since 2005, Iowa policy has required that school boards assist 8th-graders with developing a core curriculum plan, and has required boards to report annually to high school students and parents regarding student progress in meeting the goals of completing a core curriculum.

Nevada requires schools to develop methods to increase parental involvement in the education of their 9th grade students.

The Louisiana legislature recently addressed truancy. H.B. 1133 requires school staff to notify a parent in writing upon the student's third unexcused absence or unexcused tardiness (defined as leaving or checking out of school unexcused prior to the regularly scheduled dismissal time at the end of the school day). The principal must hold a conference with that parent and the parent is required to acknowledge in writing that he/she has been notified.

For many years, most states have had consequences for parents who do not enforce school attendance, but it is only in recent years that a growing number of them have begun to quantify the number of specific absences that trigger these consequences. For example, Louisiana H.B. 1133 makes the first offense of "habitual truancy" or "habitual absence" punishable by a parent fine of not more than $50 or the performance of not less than 25 hours of community service.

Urban schools must focus on "over-determining" success

The Tennessee State Board of Education adopted rules in 2008 that encourage schools to use students' 8th-grade EXPLORE scores and other assessments to identify students unprepared for 9th grade and, if needed, to step in with assistance. Schools are encouraged to experiment with ways to provide additional support, such as:

  • High school readiness programs during the summer prior to 9th grade
  • Extended time to master challenging courses, with elective credit given for the additional units
  • Tutoring by teachers, peers or community volunteers during, before and after school, and on weekends
  • An accelerated program to bring 9th-grade students up to grade level
  • Computer assisted programs

The new policy asks schools to seek ways to personalize the high school experience, including the extension of middle school concepts and practices to the high school. Teachers working in teams, for example, will have the opportunity to get to know students better and meet their needs more appropriately. When the student is in the 8th grade, the student, parent/guardian(s), and faculty advisor or guidance counselor will jointly prepare an initial four-year plan of high school study. It asks high school and middle grades faculty to collaborate in planning curriculum and the transition between middle grades and high school.

South Dakota law requires that parents of students in grades 7-12 be informed every year about what courses their sons and daughters need to take to be prepared for postsecondary-level work.

Over-determining success could be interpreted to include not allowing students to fail. Strengthening insistence on effort is one means of ensuring that students do not fail. For adolescents, motivation is sometimes difficult, and it might be necessary to grasp onto carrots and sticks that — while not optimal — can help hold students' feet to the fire.

ECS has identified a few states that mandate parents be annually notified of whether their child is on track to graduate from high school. Washington and Maryland require high schools, at the beginning of each school year, to provide students and parents with a copy of the graduation requirements. Washington also requires schools to send parents their student's progress report at the end of each school year. If a student is not making normal progress toward completing the graduation requirements, the high school is required to notify the student and parents of alternative education experiences, including summer school in the area. In addition, California, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina all have clear policies requiring parents to be informed about the state's exit exam requirement.

State policy in Ohio requires school districts with a three-year average graduation rate of 75% or less (in addition to academic watch and academic emergency districts) to administer practice versions of the Ohio Graduation Tests (OGT) to 9th-grade students.

In Colorado, school boards must provide the names and addresses of all 8th graders to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE), which contacts the parents to provide information on postsecondary education: admission guidelines; a student's potential need for remediation; financial obligations that may fall to the student's parent; a statement that a student who fails a course listed in the admissions guidelines may enroll in a remedial course to satisfy those guidelines; information regarding financial assistance (including stipend amounts, tuition and other financial aid), the annual state stipend amount; the annual cost of in-state tuition; the student's share of tuition; and notification that the stipend amount and the amount of tuition may change annually.

Individual graduation plans

Through individual graduation plans, more states have begun to assist students and their parents in early goal-setting and annual updates to such plans. According to ECS' database of high school graduation requirements, 20 states either require or soon will require all students to develop a "learning plan" or "individual graduation plan." Such plans often are first established by the parent, student and school counselor when a student is in grade 8, defining the courses the student will take in grade 9 and successive years, culminating in a planned destination the student's first year after high school — the workforce, a two-year or four-year institution, the military or a certification program.

Alignment of high school graduation and college admission standards

A handful of states have aligned their high school graduation and college admission requirements to ensure that young people and their families are aware of college preparation requirements, and to avoid de facto "tracking" of students. These states include Indiana (effective class of 2011), Oklahoma and South Dakota (both class of 2010). For additional information on these states' alignment of high school graduation and college admission requirements, please see the April 2006 ECS StateNote, Alignment of High School Graduation Requirements and State-Set College Admissions Requirements.

Conclusion

Transitional years in a student's education have the potential to throw them off-course as they attempt to successfully continue their education, especially if they — or their parents — are not well prepared for the expectations that await them. The 9th-grade year can act as a stumbling block for students, especially if they've been struggling academically or have picked up bad habits like skipping class. To ensure success in high school, it is important for states to have policies in place that identify students who are likely to experience difficulty with the transition to 9th grade, and that these students are provided with adequate help.

Endnotes

Endnotes

Click the "Endnotes" link above to hide these endnotes.

1 Keeping Students Moving Forward on the Journey From the Middle Grades Into High School, Southern Regional Education Board, October 2005 Url: http://www.sreb.org/programs/hstw/publications/2005Pubs/05V66w_mgtohstransitionobjective6.pdf

2 An Extreme Degree of Difficulty: The Educational Demographics of Urban Neighborhood High Schools, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 2006 Url: http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1025&context=gse_pubs

3 Ibid

4 What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago Public High Schools, Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, July 2007 Url: http://ccsr.uchicago.edu/publications/07 What Matters Final.pdf

5 An Extreme Degree of Difficulty: The Educational Demographics of Urban Neighborhood High Schools, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 2006

6 Ibid

7 Ibid

8 What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago Public High Schools, Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, July 2007

9 Robert Cooper and Suzanne Markoe-Hayes, Improving the Educational Possibilities of Urban High School Students as They Transition from 8th to 9th Grade, University of California All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity, September 2005 Url: http://ucaccord.gseis.ucla.edu/publications/pubs/pb-013-0905.pdf

10 What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago Public High Schools, Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, July 2007

11 Improving the Educational Possibilities of Urban High School Students as They Transition from 8th to 9th Grade, University of California All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity, September 2005

Used with the permission of the Education Commission of the States. Christie, K. & Zinth, K. (2008). Ensuring Successful Student Transitions from the Middle Grades to High School. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.

This article is about the traslation of an 8th grader to a 9th grader. It telling us thing we should do to stay on track in our high school career. Also I read that most if the states have programs to help 9th graders stay focus and to be ready for high school. This article is mainly saying 9th graders just stay focus when I go to high school,
Posted by: Raven  |  September 05, 2013 06:58 PM
the passage is about trasitioning from middle school to high school and how it can be hard for students sometimes. another thing is students may drop out because of their parents on things they did in high school. Some students took algebra 1 in middle school which as a goal. transition may throw them off course. 9th grades pick up habits all around high school also.
Posted by: jaylin  |  September 05, 2013 08:43 PM
This article is about how we switch from 8th graders to 9th graders. It states that in order for 9th graders to pass their classes. Many states have different programs to help freshman stay on the right path. They make sure that students that are having difficulty with switching from 8th to 9th grade get all the help they can give simply by creating after school help programs and even summer classes.
Posted by: yazmine johnson  |  September 05, 2013 09:13 PM
This article is talking about transition from 8th to 9th grade.If you skip class pickup bad habit and don't attend school daily you will not pass.However if a student have a strong relationsip with there teacher with course work decrease failure.Inaddition , program,family,rules,positive attitude and support will help student transition into high school and off to college.
Posted by: Kamya Haneline  |  September 05, 2013 11:07 PM
Throughout my 8th grade year, there were challenges and obstacles that I had to face, but I was applicable to get through them. The amount of work that was given was fair and tolerable and it was very easy to maintain grades that were better than ever ! Relating to 9th grade, freshmen year, is different. The teachers will work you like they are your only teacher, but its understandable. Starting 9th grade year that's when you finally take care of business on your own ! Responsibility and maturity plays a major roll starting in 9th grade as well. People say , ''You can take the horse to the water , but you cant make him drink it''. Clearly stating and referring to lots of teens that are just coming out of the 8th grade , who are not adapted to this transition. Basically, because we were ''babied'' all through our middle school years. Teachers reminded us of every assignment, projects, and etc. So, that's the explanation of why. Its also the explanation of why teens start to lack off during 9th grade year and down hill they go. Referring to the subtitle, ''Students' worries and fears'', from my perspective the first day of becoming a 9th grader I was nervous, frustrated, intimidated, and I procrastinated a lot ! This experience was only for the first day. Then , I got adapted to my transition, so I'm playing the roll of a 9th grader fair and square ( including responsibilities and maturity). Just from reading this article and from my pure knowledge I know what to do and what not to do. There is a saying ''What ever you want , you have to go get it''. To summarize that in my own words it means that you have to keep positive thoughts and a positive attitude at all times. Managing your time , Keep pursuing in life disqualifying all negativity and focusing on your goal!
Posted by: Nina Beard  |  September 05, 2013 11:29 PM
Throughout my 8th grade year, there were challenges and obstacles that I had to face, but I was applicable to get through them. The amount of work that was given was fair and tolerable and it was very easy to maintain grades that were better than ever ! Relating to 9th grade, freshmen year, is different. The teachers will work you like they are your only teacher, but its understandable. Starting 9th grade year that's when you finally take care of business on your own ! Responsibility and maturity plays a major roll starting in 9th grade as well. People say , ''You can take the horse to the water , but you cant make him drink it''. Clearly stating and referring to lots of teens that are just coming out of the 8th grade , who are not adapted to this transition. Basically, because we were ''babied'' all through our middle school years. Teachers reminded us of every assignment, projects, and etc. So, that's the explanation of why. Its also the explanation of why teens start to lack off during 9th grade year and down hill they go. Referring to the subtitle, ''Students' worries and fears'', from my perspective the first day of becoming a 9th grader I was nervous, frustrated, intimidated, and I procrastinated a lot ! This experience was only for the first day. Then , I got adapted to my transition, so I'm playing the roll of a 9th grader fair and square ( including responsibilities and maturity). Just from reading this article and from my pure knowledge I know what to do and what not to do. There is a saying ''What ever you want , you have to go get it''. To summarize that in my own words it means that you have to keep positive thoughts and a positive attitude at all times. Managing your time , Keep pursuing in life disqualifying all negativity and focusing on your goal!
Posted by: Nina Beard  |  September 05, 2013 11:34 PM
In this research they are saying how the transition from middle school to high school could or can be a challenge for some students. There basically explaining how the way it affects some students and how the way they act. There explaining how the transition affects some students learning ability. They are saying that they want to keep in coming high schoolers or freshman to remain focus and just try hard because its going to determine how that student is going to be through out high school etc.
Posted by: Emerald  |  September 06, 2013 12:04 AM
This Passage Was About The Transition From Middle School To Highschool, It Is Very Hard For Many Students. You Have To Stay On Task & Really Work Hard Because Highschool Is No Joke. I Always Pictured Highschool As Jail.. Because You Dont Really Have Freedom You Have Too Learn To Manage Your Time Wisely. Staying Focus Is Hard When You Want To Just Sit, Talk, Play, Text. You Have To Mature Prior To Entering Highschool.
Posted by: Dashuna Howard  |  September 06, 2013 08:37 PM
I think that when going from the 8th grade to the 9th grade is a huge thing because you are transitioning from middle school to high school. Coming in to high school I think that we should not skip classes and when we are in class we should pay very close attention to what's happening. When being a freshman you can be scared and shy but after a while you will get used to it and everything should come easy to you. It is an important thing to educate family members about your freshman year so that you'll know what to expect. With all the help that you get you should be able to do good in high school.
Posted by: Sheldon Grimes  |  September 06, 2013 10:03 PM
This article is about the strengths and weaknesses of transitioning from middle school to high school. The study shows that if the student is failing in subject that was a astruggle in middle school was most likely toi struggle in the same subject in high school.
Posted by: Jasmine Turner  |  September 06, 2013 10:17 PM
The passage is about transitioning from middle school to high school and how it can be hard for students to adjust.It tells how kids test scores drop and how scared they are by time they reach high school.It is telling how problems of transitioning from 8th to 9th.Programs that could help us with the change.And try to help us pass with what we struggled with.
Posted by: Ameer Echols  |  September 06, 2013 10:38 PM
This article is about the transition to middle school into highschool. this article shows the strengths and weakness of incoming 9 th graders. It shows the challenges incoming ninth graders face coming into highschool and how to improve the readiness of the students. Personally,as a freshman I was ready and prepared thanks to the bridge program. Not many schools have summer programs for incoming students. These summer programs can be used as a stepping stone for many. Help students to be familiar with the school, teachers, and interact with others. Many students from their past middle schools are not use to a large number of students, more work, and different teachers. It is dificult to transition but over time you'll get use to things. Highschool takes hard work and dedication. Its good to have a mindset of being on time, on task, and on a mission. Time is precious, use it wisely. Always be on task, keep your priorities straight. Be on a mission, a goal to suceed in all you do. If yiu have a mindset similar to this im sure transitioning to highschool will be fine.
Posted by: megan davis  |  September 07, 2013 02:33 PM
This article is about transferring from 8th grade to 9th grade in overcoming obstacles and challenges we had to face. the article also tells about our weaknesses as incoming 9th graders and it says about our strength that one thing it helps students be familiar with the school teacher and staff .Also it talks about getting all the help you can get and excepting lots og work.Although 9th grade will be hard at the end its worth it .And it talk about how well see improveing and how well learn new thing. As an imcoming ninth grader i fell it gonna ne hard but it worth it,and its gonna tech us to be more respondsbile so it gonna be challaging but possible.Also it talks about good mind set being on time in study groups. But the main concept there try to get across is to stay focused and never give up.
Posted by: Tyrese Johnson  |  September 07, 2013 04:45 PM
Well, to be honest my high school is just another challenge for me to successfully complete. I look forward to it in open arms. This article just states useful information to make my experience all the better. We all know High school is going to be hard work, but in the future, we'll realize it was all worth it. If we stay focused and keep our heads held forward, the challenge shouldn't be too difficult.
Posted by: Deja` R.  |  September 07, 2013 11:52 PM
This article talks about the obstacles you will face in highschool. Here at casstech it is a harder atomesphere here. this is nothing like middle school, they give you harder work and loads of homework.This article also talked abouthow to get to know the staff and teachers so you can get a betterunderstanding and make your life easier in highschool
Posted by: matthew webb  |  October 01, 2013 08:40 AM
im in seventh grad ei got striaght a's and a gpa of 3.8 out of four (highineroll) in my school high honoroll starts at 3.5 gpa and but im still scared and all for it formee anygpa before 3.7 is hooriblr any ddvice
Posted by: lucy  |  November 13, 2013 09:51 PM
Eighth grade is one of the hardest year for student and student may drop out of frustration and the worry they might be stuck in a grade with no friend out of there group and feel abandoned and feel left behind
Posted by: Banana king  |  April 08, 2014 09:05 AM
8th grade tis hard, my friend. But we can get through it together!. Do not give up because of the difficulty!. you can make it through!
Posted by: Gaileen  |  April 09, 2014 03:01 PM
1. I'm not really JK Rowling. 2. Thank you for publishing this. I have found it very helpful in my transition to 9th grade.
Posted by: JK Rowling  |  April 09, 2014 03:02 PM
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