Academic journal article High School Journal

Engaging Families to Support Students' Transition to High School: Evidence from the Field

Academic journal article High School Journal

Engaging Families to Support Students' Transition to High School: Evidence from the Field

Article excerpt

This exploratory study addresses the challenge of declining family engagement at the critical transition to high school. We use data from a survey of schools to examine whether and how middle grades and high schools engage families when their students transition to high school. Findings indicate that there is a significant negative relationship between the proportion of students who struggle during the first year of high school and the quality of high school outreach to families in the transition period, even after school poverty level is controlled. The study also shows that, even among a group of schools actively implementing a systematic approach to engage families, considerable work remains to enable educators to engage families during the critical transition to high school in ways that help improve student outcomes in the ninth grade.

Keywords: parent participation, grade 9, middle school students, high school students


Ninth grade has been rightly called the "make it or break it year" (CCSR, 2007) in students' school careers. Researchers at the Chicago Consortium for School Research asserted that "we know this is the year that will set the stage for whether high school students will graduate and whether they will be ready for college" (CCSR, 2007, p. 1). Yet just as students make this critical transition to high school, family involvement in their education declines precipitously (Simon, 2004). In this study, we explore how outreach by middle and high schools enables parents and other family members to partner with the school to help their students successfully navigate this transition.

There is real and important national concern about the large numbers of students who fail to meet the minimal educational standards for a high school diploma--the basic certificate for survival in today's economy. Students' adjustment to high school and academic success in completing grade 9 is an early indicator of on-time graduation from high school, and enrollment in college or other post-secondary education and training (Allensworth & Easton, 2007; Mac Iver & Messel, 2013). Just one failure in a core course (i.e., English, math, science, or history) may decrease the probability of a student graduating by 20 percentage points; failing two core courses can make graduation a fifty-fifty proposition (Mac Iver & Messel, 2012).

The importance of earning course credits required for graduation is a new concept for students entering high school. Before they realize it, students may fall behind in the number of credits they need to stay on-track for promotion to grade 10 and on-time graduation. Given the prevalence of block scheduling and semester-long courses, ninth graders can veer significantly off-track to graduation by January of their first year in high school if they fail even one or two courses. Many families of students entering high school are unaware of the impact of early failure in grade 9 on their teen's chances of on-time graduation.

The commonsense association between school attendance and passing courses in high school is confirmed in systematic analyses of administrative school data. As Allensworth and Easton (2007) reported in their research on ninth grade cohorts in Chicago, "attendance is the most important requirement for avoiding course failure" (p. 6). Numerous ninth grade cohort studies (e.g., Carl et al., 2013; Mac Iver & Messel, 2013) confirm this finding and show the impact of ninth grade attendance and course passing on the probability of on-time high school graduation and college enrollment. Findings of studies conducted across decades are confirmatory and convincing, even if a causal link has not yet been firmly established in longitudinal studies. Many families are unaware of the nexus of students' on-time, daily attendance, report card grades, and course credits required for promotion from grade 9 to grade 10 and the path to on-time graduation from high school. …

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