The transition into high school is a volatile time for adolescents and a precarious point in the educational pipeline. Evidence shows ninth grade to be one of the leakiest junctures in this pipeline. MDRC’s research in urban districts suggests that as many as 40 percent of students fail to get promoted from ninth to tenth grade on time, and fewer than 20 percent of those students recover from failure and go on to graduate.
The current high school reform movement has drawn attention to practices, like Ninth Grade Academies (NGAs), that are designed to support the transition to high school. NGAs are self-contained units located in a designated area of the school. Each academy has its own dedicated teaching faculty, guidance staff, and social services, creating a complete community for this transition year. These NGAs are organized around interdisciplinary teacher teams that have students and planning times in common. NGAs support personal relationships among students, among teachers, and between students and teachers. The teaming of teachers and students supports more consistent classroom composition and student peer groups while decreasing anonymity and increasing students’ sense of community. Students have a consistent group of teachers who are accountable for their success, and teachers have a chance to coordinate their course work to better meet the needs of their students.
Little is known about the extent to which NGAs are being used or about their impact on student engagement and achievement in school, although the available evidence is promising. MDRC’s comprehensive study, conducted in partnership with Johns Hopkins University and Broward County Public Schools, represents the first investigation of the large-scale implementation and effectiveness of NGAs as a strategy to improve students’ successful transition into and through high school.