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Article of Interest - Ninth Grade

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Bridges4Kids LogoMany High School Freshman Have to Repeat 9th Grade
by Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, May 15, 2004
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The first year Daniel Rodriguez was in ninth grade, he failed English and science and was suspended "countless times," he said, for fighting with classmates.

The second year, he racked up an even longer string of failing grades and suspensions. A third attempt ended two months ago when he failed both health and physical education, in part because he rarely wore his gym uniform, he said.

"I was embarrassed of being around the younger kids again and again, so I just dropped out," said Rodriguez, now 16. "I didn't want to put up with it."

Rodriguez is one of thousands of students in the Washington area who have repeated ninth grade at least once--and in some cases, as many as three times. In Prince George's County, Md., where Rodriguez attended Bowie High School, nearly 22 percent of the 12,229 ninth-graders last school year were not promoted to 10th grade, according to district records. One national study found similarly high percentages in several states, including Florida and Texas.

Prince George's schools chief Andri J. Hornsby sees these ninth-grade repeaters as glaring reminders that far too many students are passed through middle school when they aren't ready for high school. "It's been the traditional response forever," Hornsby said of the practice, which has been labeled social promotion. "At one point in time in society, it was OK. ... Children haven't been taught."

By the time they get to high school, many are reading at levels far below what is expected of a teen-ager, Hornsby and his teachers have found. "We're expecting ninth-graders, when they're really fifth-graders (or) sixth-graders," said Meghan Waldron, who teaches freshmen at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md.

But lack of preparation isn't the only cause, educators say. Some students do well in middle school, only to become overwhelmed by the size and complexity of today's high schools. Then there are those who simply don't want to go to class.

Whatever the reasons, researchers and school officials say ninth grade has become a watershed year. Although many students are held back in the first years of elementary and middle school, they say, the percentages are higher in ninth grade, and there is far less time for students to catch up.

"If you can get them successfully through the ninth grade and get them off to a good start, they tend to continue to fly from there," said Mary Gable, director of high schools for Anne Arundel County, Md. "But when they struggle early on, then that's the difficult part."

Studies show that the students who repeat ninth grade, especially multiple times, often are the ones who display behavioral problems, have poor attendance and, most important, fail to graduate.

"If children are held back in a grade more than once, it's a virtual certainty that they're going to drop out of school before graduation," said Walter Haney, a professor at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.

Haney and his colleagues recently found that the rate at which U.S. students fail to advance to 10th grade has tripled in the last 30 years. Nationally, 11.4 percent of ninth-graders in the 1998-99 school year did not show up as 10th-graders the next year, according to the Boston College study.

Some of those students may have dropped out, transferred to private schools or been home schooled, but the researchers found that most had to repeat ninth grade.


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