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Ninth Grade Academies Explored in New Report

The freshman year of high school can be a pivotal time for students—often with a move to a larger building, more demanding classes, and a new social scene.

Research shows if students can successfully transition into high school that first year, they are more likely to stay in school and graduate than those who struggle. To help support students in smaller, engaging learning environments, many districts have experimented with Ninth Grade Academies (NGAs).

Now, a study looking at efforts to roll out NGAs in the mid-2000s at high schools in southern Florida's Broward County has been released by MDRC, the nonprofit education and social-policy-research organization with offices in New York and California.

The review focuses on how well the 250,000-student district did in getting such a complicated reform in place, rather than assessing the effect of the new model. Researchers discovered the launching process was difficult.

Of the 18 high schools in the district that attempted to implement NGAs, only three achieved strong implementation. Another 10 met a threshold level of implementation, and five fell below the threshold.

The researchers had a rubric that considered if a school administrator was dedicated to the NGA, if there were faculty dedicated specifically to 9th grade, if an interdisciplinary team of 9th grade teachers was in place, and if the freshmen had a separate space in the building.

While district leadership was strong at the beginning of the model launch, the report says support was not sustained and there was substantial variation in the quality of NGA implementation across schools.

The MDRC researchers suggest that more training and resources are needed for teachers, as well as specific guidelines and on-site support to make this model more effective.

Other research on NGAs in 2005 by MDRC found that the model produced significant and substantial academic and attendance gains during students' first year of high school.

Next, researchers from MDRC and Johns Hopkins University will work together with Broward Country on an NGA Enhancement Development Project to test ways to improve NGAs.

Just today, The Washington Post reported that nine D.C. public high schools will open NGAs in the fall with the hope of providing extra support for first-time freshmen and insulating them from the influence of older classmate who have begun to disengage in school.

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