The correlation between success freshman year and reaching graduation is strong. In fact, students who end freshman year “on-track” are more than three times as likely to graduate than students who are not “on-track.” (An “on-track” freshman is one who fails no more than one core semester class and ends ninth grade with at least six credits.) The Consortium of Chicago School Research discovered in the mid-2000s that this metric correlates so strongly to graduation rates that it is even more predictive than achievement test scores.
Chicago Public Schools has ramped up its efforts to support freshmen and grew the district’s graduation rate along with it. Other school districts in Illinois have turned their focus toward the measure in recent years, and it is now included among multiple other factors in the statewide accountability system.
But, while some states dedicate funding specifically for programs aimed at keeping freshmen on track, Illinois does not. In fact, Illinois’ ratio of students to guidance counselors is about three times higher than the 250:1 recommended ratio. Couple this with the $7 billion gap to adequate funding overall, and it is clear that the State could be doing more to support freshmen and boost graduation rates, something that Stand focused on in the “Stop Illinois Brain Drain” report.
Unfortunately, 2021 saw the first drop in Freshman-on-Track ratings in five years. Dropping seven points from 2020 levels, 82% of Freshman were considered on track in 2021. The pandemic has created significant challenges for students and educators alike which is why investments in student supports remain critical.