School Transitions and School Dropout: A Model for Investigating the Impact of School Transitions
When students make the school change from grammar school to middle school and from middle school to high school, they move to larger, more anonymous environments where they encounter new social structures and face new academic demands. Previous research on these school moves, often called normative school transitions, have found that they are difficult periods for youths.1 On average, grades decline following a school move, particularly following the transition to high school. For example, the average grades of students in the Fall River study declined by 8 percent following the move to middle school in the sixth grade and by 18 percent following the transition to high school.
When we looked at trends in the average grades of dropouts and graduates in the Fall River study, we found that it was largely following these school transitions that trends in the academic grades of late grade dropouts diverged from those of graduates. For example, from the eighth to the ninth grade, the percentage of tenth- to twelfth-grade dropouts who failed 25 percent or more of their credits increased from 5.3 to 60.7 percent compared to an increase for graduates from 2.6 to 8.3 percent.
Why would grade changes associated with school transitions as early as the sixth grade raise the chances that a youth would drop out? One answer is that whenever students do more poorly in school, they are more likely to drop out. In addition, students' academic and adjustment difficulties during the first year of middle school and high school may pose significant barriers to their ability to form positive attachments and become integrated into these larger and more complex environment--