Illustrating why ninth grade matters

High School Success | 06/14/2019

Katie Gustainis
Marketing & Communications Director, Stand for Children Washington

Sitting in the breezeway of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, I asked outgoing senior Celina Le about her advice for next year’s incoming ninth grade students. She shared her thoughts without hesitation: “You’re only a freshman once. Make it count. Freshman year is the foundation of your next four years.”

Celina’s assertion is backed up by data that the first year of high school is a critical transition in every student’s academic career. After decades of research with Chicago Public Schools, the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research found that staying On-Track during ninth grade means a student is four times more likely to graduate high school, regardless of their race, income or background. Now, in partnership with The Network for College Success (NCS), the University of Chicago is leading the way in student success strategies by sharing their findings with educators across the country.

At Stand, the implications of this research - including the demonstrated impact that focusing on Ninth Grade On-Track has had on graduation rates in Chicago schools - have laid the foundation for our work with Washington high schools. In 2018, we sponsored 17 staff from five Washington school districts to attend NCS’ Freshman Success Institute in Chicago. Upon our return, we partnered with Evergreen Public Schools and hosted a mini-institute of our own with 30 educators representing all five of Evergreen’s high schools.

The Chicago trip and the workshop with Evergreen have been the catalyst of our work in Washington: we are determined to bring the Ninth Grade Success approach to every high school in the state.

Implementing a Ninth Grade Success strategy often involves a shift in mindset for high school educators. As young middle schoolers enter high school, their high school teachers and counselors can work together to make their transition as smooth as possible. I recently detailed what is involved in implementation of this type of approach in a three-part blog series which discussed

In Washington, state school administrators have already elevated the importance of the 9th Grade On-Track metric for students. The metric is now a part of our state’s ESSA plan and is tracked by the state superintendent’s office for every school. During the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers signaled the importance of the metric and the promise of the Ninth-Grade Success approach by allocating $250,000 for five school districts to pilot test Ninth-Grade Success in their high schools. Stand for Children was a critical partner within the High School Success Coalition advocating for this legislation and we congratulate the legislature for taking this important step forward.

However, we’re not waiting for the legislature to act to implement Ninth-Grade Success statewide. In addition to the pilot program run by OSPI, we will be partnering with thirty schools in 2019-20 to officially launch the Center for High School Success (CHSS) - a cost-free resource providing educators, high schools and school districts opportunities for professional development and strategic planning around the Ninth-Grade Success approach.

Keep an eye on this blog and on your email for progress on this effort. We would be so proud to have your support in your district, and your encouragement as we endeavor to implement this programming in every Washington school. As part of our effort to elevate the importance of ninth grade for graduation, we worked with a local illustrator to visualize what Ninth Grade Success support looks like -  an illustrated take on the challenge and on the promise of High School Success for every student.

Support Ninth-Grade Success in Washington

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