When promoting equity, one of the most important questions we can ask is, “Are we providing each student with the support they need?” Over the past few years, the RISE Network has strengthened its ability to answer this question by using data and applied research to tailor our strategies to better serve all students, including the most vulnerable.
As part of a research paper accepted by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), we worked to replicate and confirm the University of Chicago’s Grade 9 on-track indicator, which identifies students who are most at risk of not graduating on-time. We not only confirmed that University of Chicago’s findings hold true in our context, but also came to two important conclusions. First, the on-track framework (off-track, almost on-track, on-track but chronically absent, and on-track and not chronically absent) accurately predicts which students are at-risk of not graduating. Second, we can make adjustments to the framework to increase its relevance and impact for Connecticut high schools.
By using logistic regression models, we were able to estimate how likely it was for a student who ended Grade 9 on-track in a RISE partner school in 2015 to graduate on time in 2018. These models showed that students who were on-track in Grade 9 were 7.8 times as likely to graduate on-time as students who were not on-track. This finding underscores the importance of successful transitions into high school in Grade 9, and it suggests that what the researchers found to be true in Chicago high schools is also true for students in RISE communities. At RISE, we have positioned our RISE by 5 strategies, like summer bridge, on-track data teams, and on-track coaching, to support student achievement in Grade 9 in response to the need for additional support during this important transition.
Students Entering Grade 9 with Academic/Attendance
Concerns Require More Support in Grade 9 and Beyond
To expand on this finding, we investigated whether there were any differences in the odds of on-time graduation for students who were off-track, almost on-track, or on-track with attendance concerns. We found that each of these categories was statistically significantly different, meaning that they represented distinct student experiences and needs. Each category was also associated with significantly lower likelihoods of graduating compared to on-track students, with the likelihoods falling in the expected order, from most to least likely to graduate on-time:
- On-track with attendance concerns: 75% less likely than on-track students.
- Almost on-track: 84% less likely than on-track students.
- Off-track: 98% less likely than on-track students.
You can view these figures in the chart below. One key equity gap in these findings was that students who were categorized as “high risk” at the end of Grade 8 using the Risk & Opportunity Framework were 74% less likely to graduate on time compared to non-high risk students, regardless of whether or not they ended the year on-track. This tells us that students who are entering Grade 9 with concerns in attendance and academics likely need more intensive support during Grade 9 and/or support beyond their Grade 9 year to ensure they are on a path to graduation.
Keeping Marginalized Students On-Track in Grade 9 Increases Likelihood of Graduation to that of their Non-Marginalized Peers
In contrast to students identified as high risk based on their Grade 8 data, students in the vulnerable category were no less likely to graduate on-time controlling for their on-track status. This means that if vulnerable ended Grade 9 on-track, they were no less likely to graduate on-time than their opportunity or high-opportunity peers. Similarly, there were no significant achievement gaps by race, English Learners (EL) status, or special education status in the models predicting on-time graduation, even though some of those variables were predictive of ending Grade 9 on-track status. This likely means that any gaps in graduation rates for students of color, special education students, or EL students can be explained by Grade 9 on-track status. It is particularly important to keep marginalized students on-track by the end of Grade 9; this ensures they are as likely to graduate as students from non-marginalized subgroups.
Lastly, by using logistic regression models with Grade 9 on-track as the outcome, we were able to identify strong evidence of both progress in our work and equity gaps in our on-track rates. Our analysis showed that students who finished Grade 9 as part of the graduation cohort of 2021 were 2.4 times as likely to end Grade 9 on-track as students who finished Grade 9 as part of the Cohort of 2018. This is encouraging, because it suggests that the increased focus and energy around Grade 9 at our schools may have led to more students ending Grade 9 on-track, and Cohort 1 schools have seen continued improvements in subsequent cohorts. Unfortunately, equity gaps also persist, as Hispanic/Latinx students and special education students were 46-47% less likely to end Grade 9 on-track, compared to their peers; however, RISE high schools are seeing increased rates of improvement for marginalized subgroups.
Overall, this analysis provides important insights and validation around Grade 9 on-track is an important and relevant metric for our students. It also shows that we’ve made progress keeping more students on-track in Grade 9 and on a pathway to on-time graduation. It also identifies areas for future growth, specifically the need to support Latinx and Special Education students in getting On-Track in Grade 9, and providing more intensive supports for high risk students to ensure they graduate on-time.
Students are defined as high risk, vulnerable, opportunity, or high opportunity in accordance with the Risk & Opportunity Framework developed by University of Chicago’s Network for College Success. This framework functions as an early warning indicator system to help identify incoming Grade 9students who are in greater need of support based on their Grade 8 attendance and GPA.