As the number of ninth grade students increased, schools increased support

Thirteen states, including Georgia, saw an increase of at least 5% in their ninth grade this fall, with 34 states providing school enrollment tracking provided by a private organization, Burbio. In Arkansas, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, and West Virginia, the newcomer class grew by 10% or more.

Combined with data from other states showing that more ninth-grade students are off-track to graduate in four years, the data raises the question of whether the school can help struggling ninth-graders capture this larger group. Meanwhile, some school districts are pouring in money and staff for new efforts to get these students back on track.

“If we don’t do something to intervene now, and urgently, we’ll see after three years of playing in a way that won’t be good for kids and families,” Towns said. “We are determined not to let that happen.”

The scene continues at Fort Worth Schools in Texas, where 990 of the 7,300 freshmen were repeating grades this past fall. These students have pushed ninth grade enrollment out of where it was in recent years – typically between 6,300 and 7,000 students.

In response, the district has added two required textbooks for struggling ninth graders, giving students extra time to practice basic skills in middle school during the epidemic.

Fort Worth is part of a new initiative funded by the Federal Covid Relief Dollar, which also has a “new success” coach at each of its high schools. The 23 coaches pay close attention to the teaching, attendance and mental well-being of teachers, especially ninth grade educators, and work closely with a small group of people who need it most.

Mercy Sorensen, the district’s chief academic officer, said staff were already looking for warning signs and were intervening quickly. If a ninth grader fails a class in the first semester, their credit will be restored in the second semester instead of the summer. The original study found that ninth-graders who fail even a basic class are less likely to graduate within four years.

“It sounds like a lot of warm demand,” he said. Dr. Sorensen. “When an adult is attached to a child they say: ‘You have to be adjunctive’ or ‘You have to go to credit recovery’ or ‘I’m checking and monitoring your attendance and it’s a percentage here, or’ I’m taking you to counselor. ‘

So far this year, only a quarter of the freshmen repeating the grade are in 10th grade, or about 280 students.

Gwinnett County is trying to take a more proactive approach, too. For example, ninth grade students who failed a core class in their first semester were assigned a “Power Hour” class in January so they could work to create that half-credit. The district is offering 30 minutes of intensive tuition per day for ninth graders – math and science is a big need – and teachers are being paid extra to work with students after school and on Saturdays.

The idea is to “stop in the middle of the year and say: ‘Let’s actually fix it now,'” Towns said, “instead of waiting until the end and digging a big hole for the kids to get out.”

State data show that this spring the district has seen a drop in the number of freshman students by about 570, with some ninth graders successfully advancing to 10th grade.

In Allentown, Pennsylvania, schools started with 450 more freshmen than the previous year, including about 300 ninth graders.

This year, the district has added more credit recovery classes by teachers on school days and after school. Officials have also restructured the Summer Bridge program, which prepares growing ninth-grade students for high school. In the past, the program was short-lived and poorly attended, but this year the district has extended it and there has been a big increase in participation. Officials plan to run it again this summer.

“We knew we were going to meet that demand,” said Brandi Sawyer, who oversees the district’s secondary education. “It simply came to our notice then. These kids haven’t been to school for a whole year since fifth grade, and here they are in ninth grade. “

So far, the district has seen 55 repeaters go from ninth grade to 10th grade – more than four times what it increased last year.

Houston ISD in Texas is offering more holiday “boot camps” for ninth grade struggling students. In the past, the district only paid teachers to provide that extra support to selected schools, but all schools may offer the program this year.

Orlando Raina, principal of Austin High School, says the strategy prevents students from getting stuck in a make-up class.

“These credit recovery boot camps are a way to keep our students on track,” Raina said. “We want to be able to keep their schedules as open as possible so that they can be better served.”

That support comes as the district enrolled 17,700 ninth graders this past fall, up from 15,000 to 16,300 in recent years. Connie Smith, who oversees the high school curriculum for the district, estimates that approximately 12% of students were repeating grades, often after they missed classes for work or they became ill or came in contact with covid. Due to the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America and refugees from Haiti, the district has also grown to include ninth grade students who have their own special needs.

The district is asking students to earn credit in the summer if they have to take classes again to create “cushions” in their schedule.

“I’m optimistic,” Smith said. “They are on the right track.”

Kalin Belsha is a national education reporter based in Chicago. Contact him at [email protected]