Leaping into 9th grade: Local school group reviews Univ. research findings

Research analyst Paul Moore presented University findings on trends of student success from middle school to high school.

By Tamar Honig

The Hyde Park/Kenwood Community Action Council (HPKCAC) met at Kenwood Academy to discuss trends related to student success in high school Wednesday night. The group of about 20 school and community leaders reviewed research from the University of Chicago’s Consortium of Chicago School Research (CCSR) and shared updates about school-related events in the community.

The event began with a presentation by Paul Moore of the CCSR. He discussed research on indicators for high school readiness based on middle school performance. According to the data he shared, a stark transition occurs between eighth and ninth grade in terms of many students’ attendance and grades.

“Ninth grade course performance is critical for being on track to graduation,” Moore said. “You can’t have students falling off from eighth grade to ninth grade.”

He went on to enumerate the best indicators of high school success. These include core GPA and attendance in eighth grade, and test scores in the middle grades. Only students with the best grades and attendance in middle school are likely—although not guaranteed—to earn As and Bs in ninth grade.

However, even among the highest-performing eighth graders—those with near-perfect GPAs and attendance—only just over three-quarters earn As and Bs in ninth grade.

“These are the best students in CPS in eighth grade, and only 77 percent of them go on to earn As and Bs in ninth grade,” he said. “This needs to be 100 percent… All of them should be able to translate that eighth grade performance into success in high school. We need to understand why this is happening.”

According to Moore, another critical indicator of whether students graduate and earn the credentials needed for college is their selection of high school. The CPS website lists four types of public schools in Chicago: neighborhood schools, which must enroll any student who lives within their boundary; selective schools, to which students must apply; magnet schools, which admit students within their boundaries based on a lottery and open leftover spots to students citywide; and charter schools, which establish their own enrollment policies.

“This is either a depressing story or a hopeful story depending on how you look at it,” Moore said while showing graphs demonstrating that students with the same academic records in middle school have very different high school outcomes depending on which high school they attend. “High schools have the ability to affect change in their students ­­­­­­­­— that’s what this [is] showing. What high schools are doing makes a big difference in the likelihood of success for their students, controlling for their eighth grade characteristics.”

Looking forward, Moore elaborated upon potential pathways to improved rates of high school and college graduation. His research indicated that strategies aimed at improving GPA or attendance in middle school would likely have more of a pay-off than efforts aimed at improving test scores.

“Grades and attendance are low-hanging fruit relative to test scores,” he explained.

Overall, the research presented by Moore supported the use of middle-grade information to create indicator systems for high school graduation and college readiness.

The HPKCAC discussed the controversy over Dyett High School. The Chicago Board of Education voted to phase out Dyett in 2012 due to poor academic performance. The school is slated to close completely in 2015 after the last senior class graduates. Its closing would leave Bronzeville without an open-enrollment neighborhood high school that is not a contracted, charter, or an Academy for Urban School Leadership turnaround school. Members of the coalition also point to overcrowding in the nearby Kenwood Academy as further evidence of the need for an open-enrollment high school in Bronzeville. The activists have stressed that creating a high-quality public high school is an attainable goal that comes down to the school district’s priorities.

The HPKCAC is celebrating one year in existence and will have its next meeting on March 25 at Ray Elementary.