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Indicator: 8th grade on track


Grade 8 students are prepared to transition to high school and are on track to graduate on time.


Percentage of students in grade 8 with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, no Ds or Fs in English language arts or math, attendance of 96 percent or higher, and no in- or out-of-school suspensions or expulsions.

Data Source(s)

Administrative data; student transcripts

Why it matters

The transition from middle to high school is one of the most difficult turning points on students’ K–12 pathways, especially for Black boys, who experience the greatest drops in grade point average (GPA) from grades 8 to 9. According to research by the UChicago Consortium on School Research, students’ attendance, GPA, and course failures in the middle grades are the most accurate indicators of how they will perform in their high school classes, compared to other potential indicators, such as test scores. To provide early targeted support as students enter high school, some local education agencies, such as the CORE Districts, have developed 8th-grade on-track early warning indicators to measure students’ high school readiness. Across all states and districts, the most common components of early warning indicators are attendance, behavior, and course grades (the ABCs). (See Balfanz and Byrnes for a state-of-the-field summary of early warning indicators.) Early analyses of the CORE Districts’ indicator found that it correctly predicts high school graduation for 9 out of 10 students.

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 California’s CORE Districts to identify students at risk of not graduating high school. However, as noted previously, research on middle school on-track indicators is ongoing, and other approaches exist to identifying students’ on-track status. As one example, grantees in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Network for School Improvement use a higher GPA threshold of 3.0 to determine whether students are on track to graduate high school and be academically prepared for college. 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 GPA, 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. As noted in the discussion of a 6th grade on track indicator, a teacher in another school or district might grade a student’s performance differently and might be subject to grader bias, which can affect the comparability of data on course failures. GPA, which aggregates course grades into a single value, can be more reliable than a single course grade, though GPA calculations (for instance, how courses are weighted) can also differ across contexts. Nevertheless, course grades are highly predictive of later academic success. 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.