ERIC Identifier: ED284922
Publication Date: 1987-06-00
Author: Ascher, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.

The Ninth Grade--A Precarious Time for the Potential Dropout. ERIC Digest No. 34.

The ninth grade, difficult for most students, is particularly hard for students who are at risk. Students in the ninth grade are at an uncomfortable stage of adolescence; they face less scheduling and rule flexibility; and are tempted to indulge in the antisocial behavior of some of the upper-class members at the high school where they are the youngest students. Further, they are in search of ways to demonstrate maturity in spite of their class position.

Students most likely to drop out before completing the ninth grade are those who have had attendance, discipline, and academic problems in the past, possibly from the beginning of their school careers. Some are simply waiting until their 16th birthday so they can legitimately leave. Even students who move on to the tenth grade and beyond are more likely to drop out before graduation if they had an unsuccessful ninth grade year.

Schools can help retain at risk ninth graders through a variety of policies and practices. Some that have proven to be successful are the following:

--Improving articulation between the earlier years of schooling and high school, including counseling efforts, curriculum planning, and visits among elementary, middle, and high school personnel.

--Deferring required courses, so that ninth grade students may take more pleasurable courses and ones in which they are most likely to do well, and fewer difficult required courses that may frustrate them to the point of giving up. This strategy also ensures that upper-class members will have a full and challenging course load.

--Decreasing alienation of the high school, by breaking down the school into small, stable units to increase personal attention from the staff. Examples of this strategy include:

--expanding the roles of a homeroom teacher to include mentor and personal guide.

--extending class periods to 50 minutes or longer to limit the need for students to move from class to class.

--creating clusters of students who remain together for several classes and thus can more easily offer each other support.

--creating alternative schools and mini-schools that offer disaffected students compensatory programs and more personalized attention.

--Sensitizing teachers to the problems of ninth graders, so the teachers can be more helpful; and assigning to this grade more experienced teachers, rather than the newest ones who are frequently assigned.

--Creating alternatives to retention before the ninth grade so students don't begin high school with waning motivation, low self-esteem, and the stigma of being overage. Earlier retention exacerbates a student's tendency to drop out. Effective alternatives include allowing students in earlier grades to learn at their own pace, but then helping them make up lost time before they begin the ninth grade.

--Offering special programs to orient middle students to the ninth grade, thus helping to smooth the passage. Such programs include:

--after-school activities at the high school before middle students begin classes there.

--visits to the high school by small groups of incoming students, and possibly assignment of a high school student mentor to each student.

--having a middle school student shadow a high school student to learn what the high school day is like.

--orientation activities, preferably for small groups of ninth graders, that range from a single session on the first day in school to an ongoing program lasting up to a full semester, during which rules and expectations are discussed, courses of study are described, and human awareness issues like multicultural relations and drug use are explored.

--orientation activities for parents, that cover much of the same ground as those for the ninth graders.

All of the suggestions for easing the transition to ninth grade presented above have been successfully tested in school districts around the country. Their attractiveness is enhanced by the fact that all of them can be implemented without requiring vast changes in the basic structure of the high school.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Bowen, J. and D. Lipkowitz. STAYING IN SCHOOL: THE DROPOUT CHALLENGE. Albany, NY: New York State School Boards Association, 1985.

Clark, T.A. and R.A. Irizarry. CONSORTIUM ON DROPOUT PREVENTION: IDENTIFYING SCHOOL-BASED DROPOUT PREVENTION STRATEGIES; A SURVEY OF HIGH SCHOOL AND MIDDLE SCHOOL PROGRAMS IN NINE COOPERATING DISTRICTS. Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, California, April 1986.

Kato, C. "Ninth-Grade Orientation Reduces Dropouts in Seattle." NETWORK NEWS, New York: Academy for Educational Development, Fall 1986.

Rachal, J. and L.M. Hoffman. THE EFFECTS OF REMEDIATION AND RETENTION UPON BASIC SKILLS PERFORMANCE AMONG ELEMENTARY STUDENTS PARTICIPATING IN A STATE BASIC SKILLS TEST PROGRAM. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the AERA, Chicago, Illinois, April 1985. ED 262 065.

Troob, C. LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF STUDENTS ENTERING HIGH SCHOOL IN 1979: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FIRST TERM PERFORMANCE AND SCHOOL COMPLETION. New York: New York City Board of Education, Office of the Chancellor, 1985.

Williams, K.A. WHAT RESEARCH SAYS ABOUT GRADE RETENTION AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT. ED 259 840.

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