Skip to main content

Indicator: 9th grade on track


Grade 9 students are on track to graduate high school in four years, enroll in postsecondary education, and succeed in their first year of postsecondary education.


Percentage of students in grade 9 with a GPA of 3.0 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

Grade 9 is a foundational year on students’ paths to on-time high school graduation and postsecondary education. For example, grade point average (GPA) in grade 9 predicts GPA in grade 11, which plays a role in college admissions and predicts students’ postsecondary enrollment and first-year postsecondary retention. Research demonstrates the predictive value of other measures of 9th-grade performance as well and the additional benefit of considering multiple measures in grade 9—rather than a single one—to identify whether students are on track to graduate high school on time. Research on 9th-grade on-track indicators shows they can highlight disparate needs for support for students from different racial, gender, and economic backgrounds. For instance, Black and Latino 9th graders tend to have lower GPAs than their peers. Moreover, 9th-grade on-track indicators can play a critical role in dropout prevention efforts, as highlighted by their use in settings like Chicago Public Schools.

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 recommendations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and work by the UChicago Consortium on School Research, CORE Districts, and Balfanz and Byrnes. Relative to the early and middle grades, research and measurement of on-track indicators in grade 9 have been more common, though the field has largely focused on dropout prevention rather than college readiness. For example, the metrics and thresholds recommended by Balfanz and Byrnes (such as attendance of 90 percent or higher and no more than one suspension) predict whether students are likely to graduate high school. We suggest raising these thresholds to emphasize readiness to enroll and succeed in postsecondary education. However, research based on local data should validate the criteria used to measure students’ on-track status for college.

Schools record student course grades, attendance, and suspensions data as part of their regular operations, making this indicator theoretically 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. Currently, 14 states include 9th-grade on-track measures in their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability plans or publicly report this information, but the metrics used vary. For instance, some states focus only on credit accumulation, whereas others consider course performance in particular core subject areas. We note that relative to data on course grades, which are updated after every marking period, data on credits earned are updated at most twice a year, which make course grades more actionable information for intervention purposes (though both course grades and credits are predictive of later academic outcomes).


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.