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Indicator: 6th grade on track


Grade 6 students are on track to graduate high school on time.


Percentage of students in grade 6 with passing grades in English language arts and math, attendance of 90 percent or higher, and no in- or out-of-school suspensions or expulsions

Data Source(s)

Administrative data; student transcripts

Why it matters

Research on early warning indicators shows that measures of academics, behavior, and course performance in middle school can predict whether students are on track to graduate from high school, and schools can use this information to provide individualized support to students at risk of falling behind. For example, a study of 6th graders in Philadelphia found that 60 percent of the students demonstrating any of the following warning signs eventually left school: attendance below 80 percent, one or more out-of-school suspensions, and failing either math or English. Research also points to the importance of a successful transition from elementary school to middle school for later academic and social-emotional outcomes, perhaps especially so for Black boys.

What to know about measurement

Each on-track indicator in the E-W Framework is supported by research conducted in specific district contexts; therefore, the specific criteria used to define whether a student is on track may not predict long-run outcomes equally well in all settings. To define this indicator, we drew on research in the School District of Philadelphia by Balfanz et al. to identify students at risk of not graduating high school. The metrics and thresholds may be different if predicting other outcomes, such as success in college. For example, in addition to the metrics listed here, grantees in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Network for School Improvement are also measuring whether students have a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher to determine whether they are on track to graduate high school and be academically prepared for college. Research on middle school on-track indicators is ongoing, and multiple approaches exist to identifying students’ on-track status. If possible, research based on local data could help validate this measure of students’ on-track status in other settings. Three states currently include a middle school on-track indicator as part of their school accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Schools record student course grades, attendance, and suspensions data as part of their regular operations, making this indicator feasible to measure. However, reporting of these administrative data to higher levels (district, state, federal) varies, and the underlying data are not necessarily comparable across localities. Because teachers subjectively determine students’ grades, a teacher in another school or district might grade a student’s performance differently and may be subject to grader bias. An analysis of 20 research studies found consistent evidence of grader bias by students’ race, ethnicity, and past poor performance, from elementary school through college. However, grades are consistently very strong predictors of later outcomes across contexts. We note additional considerations about attendance and discipline data under the indicators for consistent attendance and positive behavior.


The framework's recommendations are based on syntheses of existing research. Please see the framework report for a list of works cited.

This website was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.