Ninth Grade Counts: Using Summer Bridge to Strengthen Transitions to High School

The transition from middle to high school presents many challenges for students, including increased academic expectations with reduced student support, summer learning loss, and often times difficult social transitions. Across the nation, summer transition programs aim to reduce the number of dropouts by providing transition supports for students most at risk of dropping out.

On January 30, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s Smaller Learning Communities program hosted a Webinar, The Ninth Grade Counts: Summer Bridge. The event highlighted Ninth Grade Counts, a three-part guide designed to help strengthen the transition into high school, as well as Step Up, a ninth-grade transition program in Portland, Oregon. Great Schools Partnership’s Ken Templeton facilitated the event, which featured two representatives from Step Up.

The Webinar discussed the importance of the ninth grade, as well as some common challenges faced by transitioning students. Presenters shared that one-third of students failed to be promoted from the ninth grade, making it the most failed grade in the K-12 educational pathway. Students who are on track for graduation during the ninth grade have an 81% chance of graduation, while the rate for students who are off track is 22%. The Step Up program was founded in 2003 as a partnership between a local high school, Roosevelt, and the alternative school serving many of its former students, Open Meadow. Today, as part of the program, students participate in a pre-freshman year summer leadership camp designed to build a sense of relevancy for students and help develop the mindset needed for success in high school. During the school year, Step Up provides an extended-day tutoring program for ninth and tenth graders. Students are expected to commit to the program two hours a day for twice a week, with failing students often required to dedicate additional hours. Program staff sit in on classes, keep track of homework, contact parents on a regular basis, and advocate for students. The program also offers an intensive proficiency-based summer school after the ninth-grade year, where students can make up failed course credits through completing target areas they struggled to master during the school year.

Since its inception, the program has grown to serve students at three additional high schools in the area, Madison, Franklin and Gresham. It provides services for academic-priority students, which in some schools, can include up to 50% of a ninth grade class. Students enrolled in Step Up, on average, earn more core credits and maintain higher attendance and graduation rates than students in Portland Public Schools overall.

The full archived Webinar will be made available via the Great Schools Partnership online. Also, view the complete Great Schools Partnership guide, Ninth Grade Counts: Strengthening the Transition into High School


Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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