Applying Lessons from Freshman Success to the Sophomore Year
Fifteen years ago, the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found that students’ course performance and credits earned in ninth grade are more predictive of their likelihood of graduating from high school than their race, gender, socioeconomic status, and standardized test scores combined. This research validated the Freshman OnTrack indicator. Students who end freshman year on-track are nearly three times more likely than their off-track peers to graduate from high school.
Freshman OnTrack has remained highly predictive of graduation, and the number of off-track freshmen who don't graduate has fallen significantly over the past decade. However, there are still a significant number of on-track freshmen who don't go on to graduate from high school. The success of Freshman OnTrack work in reducing the number of off-track freshmen presents an opportunity for high schools to focus more attention on supporting students who end freshman year on-track but may go on to struggle later in high school.
New research by the UChicago Consortium and To&Through Project suggests that both freshman and sophomore year can be a time of tremendous vulnerability and opportunity for students. Among students who finished sophomore year off-track, nearly one-half were on-track their freshman year. Students in this group were also much less likely to graduate: less than one-half of students who were on-track freshman year but fell off-track sophomore year graduated within four years. On the other hand, students who finished freshman year off-track but got back on-track sophomore year graduated at a rate similar to the district’s overall high school graduation rate. These findings demonstrate that transitions – from grade to grade, school to school or in-person to virtual – are difficult times in students’ development, but with the right support and time for structured reflection, they can also be powerful learning opportunities that shape students’ identities.
Why It Matters
To help educators better monitor and support students’ progress, the study expands on Freshman OnTrack by exploring a more nuanced set of freshman and sophomore success indicators. The three key predictive sophomore indicators of risk include the Sophomore OnTrack indicator, which is defined similarly to the Freshman OnTrack indicator, as well as course failures and low attendance. At the beginning of their sophomore year, nearly 70% of the students who did not go on to graduate from high school could have been identified as needing additional support, based on their Freshman OnTrack status, freshman course failures, and freshman attendance rate. By the end of their sophomore year, an even larger proportion of the students who did not go on to graduate could have been identified using their Sophomore OnTrack status, sophomore course failures, and sophomore attendance rate.
While off-track status, course failures, and attendance are powerful warning indicators for high school graduation, the study provides evidence that GPA is the most powerful indicator of college access and enrollment. For example, only one out of three students who finished their freshman year with a 3.0+ GPA immediately enrolled in a 4-year college after high school graduation, whereas nearly two out of three students who finished their freshman and sophomore year with a 3.0+ GPA immediately enrolled in a 4-year college. By monitoring GPA, course failures, and attendance in addition to Sophomore OnTrack status, sophomore educators can better support students in their journey through high school and to college.