August 16, 2007
Vol. 26 No. 20

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    Consortium study results provide encouragement for city’s ninth graders

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Students who attended freshman orientation at Kenwood Academy on Tuesday, Aug. 14, and other Chicago Public School freshman at schools citywide, were briefed on the critical importance of the ninth-grade year.

    The information provided was from the Consortium on Chicago School Research’s recently released report that found grades and attendance were inextricably linked to graduation rates.

    The consortium’s research offers Chicago Public Schools concrete data that can be used to determine which students are at risk of dropping out. Dropout prevention is a priority for urban districts such as Chicago, where almost half of all high schools students fail to graduate.

    The district distributed the consortium’s two-page research summary to all incoming freshmen and their families, which pointed out that students’ behaviors in high school are more important than their incoming academic skills for passing classes and earning good grades. Chicago teachers and counselors also will be briefed on what they can do to help more students graduate.

    The summary provided the following findings from the consortium’s report:

    • More than 95 percent of students with a B average or better in their freshmen year graduate in four years.
    • Freshmen with less then a C average are more likely to drop out than graduate.
    • Nearly 90 percent of freshmen who miss less than a week of school per semester graduate, regardless of their eighth-grade test scores.

    The findings were drawn from the report, “What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago Public High Schools; A Close Look at Course Grades, Failures and Attendance in the Freshman Year.” Elaine Allensworth, Co-Director for Statistical Analysis for the Consortium on Chicago School Research and John Q. Easton, Executive Director of the consortium, prepared the study.

    “Even though we often think of dropping out as influenced by many different factors, it is a predictable event,” Allensworth said. “We can tell with surprising accuracy who is eventually going to graduate, who is going to drop out, and who could go either way by looking at students’ grades in the freshman year.”

    According to the study, attendance is a crucial factor; it is eight times more predictive of course failure than test scores. The research showed that it is not only the cases of extreme absence or course-cutting that lead to failure, but that small amounts of course-cutting and absences can have significant effects on grades. The authors of the study stress that the connection between attendance and grades is important for students and teachers to understand because almost 40 percent of all freshman students miss more than four weeks of school.

    The research also shows that school factors play a considerable role in shaping freshmen academic outcomes. “Student performance is better when students report high levels of trust for their teachers and where they report that teachers provide personal support for them,” Easton said.

    The freshman year is a “make-it-or-break-it” year that offers students a crucial chance for a fresh start, the research concludes. “Students can fall off course if they start cutting classes and blowing off homework. And students who struggled in elementary school can turn things around if they come to school every day and aim for a B average.

    For Chicago students who want to graduate from college—and 78 percent of seniors say they do—that B average in high school is what it’s going to take to succeed in college,” the summary noted.