“Once you’re a third-time ninth-grader, the odds of you being able to succeed . . . the odds are low,” Henderson told the D.C. Council last week. “The same old, same old is not going to get these young people to where they need to be.”
Nine D.C. high schools will open in the fall with “ninth-grade academies,” small schools-within-a-school dedicated to providing extra support for first-time freshmen. Students who have already failed ninth grade will not be allowed to enroll in the academies.
Officials say they are still hammering out plans for those “repeater” students, raising concerns among some advocates that the school system doesn’t know how to effectively educate such students and is perhaps setting them up for additional failure.
Cathy Reilly, executive director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, said officials must craft a comprehensive strategy for changing the trajectory of its failing students.
“They are a huge contingent of who’s in the high schools, the kids who are failing,” Reilly said. “You don’t want those kids to feel that they’re not part of the school. You don’t want them to feel like castoffs.”
School system officials said that some repeaters could go to after-school “twilight academies” dedicated to helping students catch up to their peers, while others could enroll in evening credit-recovery programs while taking some classes during the day.
And many might be headed for alternative schools. Henderson says she will be more aggressive about removing overage, credit-short students from neighborhood schools and assigning them to programs, such as the city’s two STAY schools for adult learners, that can provide a different and perhaps more successful path to graduation.
Although a limited experiment at Dunbar High School appears to have done well for incoming freshmen, D.C. officials could not say how Dunbar repeaters did in that school’s alternative program.
D.C. officials are targeting the ninth grade because that is when things tend to fall apart for many of the city’s traditional public school students, who are promoted through elementary and middle school despite lacking grade-level skills in math and reading.
In ninth grade, for the first time in their school careers, students must pass certain classes — Algebra and English — to advance. Among those who struggle, truancy spikes. And failure becomes common: Only about six in 10 first-time freshmen are promoted to the 10th grade, leaving classrooms clogged with students who have been retained multiple times.