It’s important that students start high school on the right foot. In fact, 9th grade GPA and earning on-time promotion to 10th grade has been shown to be predictive of 11th grade GPA, postsecondary enrollment, and first-year retention. For this reason, many districts across the country have developed robust systems of support for 9th grade students. The UChicago Network for College Success (NCS), in particular, has been a leader in supporting high schools in tracking 9th grade “on-track” data and developing high-functioning 9th Grade Success Teams to target student supports.

These 9th Grade Success Teams are responsible for:

  1. Regularly reviewing 9th grade student course grade, GPA, and attendance data
  2. Engaging in equity-centered dialogue that recognizes the rich and diverse identities of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and youth of color to better support their success
  3. Developing and implementing changes to educator practice and/or inventions to students at risk of falling off-track
  4. Measuring the effectiveness of those implementation changes
  5. Utilizing resources, tools, templates, etc. from the NCS Freshman On-Track Toolkit to deepen their thinking and continuously improve their practice

Teams need strong leaders to set vision and norms, determine goals, facilitate meetings, monitor next steps, track progress, and support collaborative work among practitioners. The success of these teams also depends on the support of the school administrators, who are responsible for creating the school-wide systems and structures for 9th grade success work. Administrators can create dedicated time for teams to meet, ensure proper resource allocation, provide professional learning, etc.

How does the strategy create more equitable access and opportunities?

Research has shown that the greatest benefits of prioritizing 9th grade success are seen in populations that US high schools typically fail to serve well: young men, Black students, and Latinx students. In fact, when the School District of Philadelphia began to implement support structures for 9th grade on-track, they found that Black and Hispanic students and students attending lower-income “neighborhood” schools saw more significant improvements than their White and higher-income peers. And in Chicago, on-track rates improved among Black males more than any other student subgroup, rising from 43 percent in 2005 to 71 percent in 2013.

What outcomes or benefits are associated with the strategy?

What are the budget implications for implementing the strategy?

Implementing a 9th grade success program requires an initial investment in a data system to regularly supply grade-level teams with up-to-date student data and training to build staff capacity. Additionally, if it is possible to provide a dedicated 9th Grade Success Coordinator, counselor, or Assistant Principal, the work can move faster. Other potential expenses include: stipends for teachers, paid tutors, summer and after-school programs for incoming 9th graders, costs for data infrastructure, and professional learning.

NCS offers professional learning opportunities, starting with the National Freshman Success Institute.

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How will the strategy limit significant recurring costs while ensuring long-term sustainability?

Beyond the initial data and training investments, this strategy has very limited sustaining costs.

What is the anticipated timeline for launching the strategy?

Depending on the conditions in the school (e.g. master schedule, data availability, staffing, etc.), a strategy for 9th grade on-track can be launched immediately. The summer before the start of a school year is a particularly beneficial time for launch, but elements can be effectively started throughout an academic year.

What internal and/or external capacity (e.g. personnel, infrastructure, training, etc.) is needed to launch the strategy? To monitor and sustain it?


  • Administrative buy-in
  • In-time 9th grade GPA, course grades, and attendance data by race, gender, and other demographics
  • Professional learning, resources, and research on Freshman OnTrack
  • Freshman Success Teams (or Grade-Level Teams) with dedicated meeting time

Monitor and Sustain

  • Data systems that monitor changes in educator practice and student interventions, as well as their impact on student outcomes
  • Engaging in the latest research and data to continuously improve practices and thinking
9th Grade Success Teams - Invest Forward
Allison Shelley for EDUimages
Equitable Education Access - Invest Forward
Allison Shelley for EDUimages

What are the first 3-5 steps to take to implement the strategy?

  1. Establish in-time 9th grade GPA, course grades, and attendance data in an actionable format (e.g. dashboards, reports, etc.).
  2. Establish a 9th Grade Success Team, define and communicate their purpose, and build in time to meet in the master schedule for the team to meet and work collaboratively on a regular basis.
  3. Plan and provide academic and advising supports to rising 9th grade students, ideally starting in the summer.

What are potential challenges for implementing the strategy?

  1. Challenge: Building buy-in among district and school leadership on prioritizing ninth-grade success
    • Solution: Building from research base; starting with why
  2. Challenge: Integrating the time for teacher collaboration and training into the master schedule
    • Solution: Build teacher collaboration time into the master schedule
  3. Challenge: Overcoming embedded racism and bias
    • Solution: Engage educators in racial equity work

What are models of schools, districts, and/or organizations that are successfully implementing this strategy?

What are some additional resources for districts/states interested in implementing this strategy?