While test scores are often used as indicators of student achievement, a new report shows that, a student’s grade point average (GPA) in 9th grade may be the most important predictor of later academic success.
The report, from the Chicago Consortium on School Research at the University of Chicago, focuses mostly on efforts in Chicago Public Schools to support students during the critical 9th grade year. In particular, according to the district’s Freshman OnTrack indicator, part of the School Quality Report Card, a student is on track for graduation if he or she has not received an F in more than one semester of one core academic course.
“In addition to student achievement, grades may reflect such qualities as behavior, attitude, willingness to attend class and turn in assignments, and other indicators of effort,” write the authors, who analyzed the grades of over 187,000 first-time freshmen in non-charter, non-alternative schools.
The authors do acknowledge that grades can be a subjective measure of student performance because not all teachers grade the same way. But they say that doesn’t mean grades are not a reliable predictor of students’ later performance.
They also offer a few reasons why good grades in 9th grade can keep students on a path of higher achievement throughout high school. For example, students who have a high GPA in 9th grade might be more likely to gain access to advanced courses in subsequent years. Teachers might also feel more favorable toward and have higher expectations of students who “demonstrate early success in high school.” Students, they add, might also feel more confidence in themselves and be more likely to adopt a growth mindset.
Even with the focus on grades, the researchers note that there are still significant gaps, with girls earning higher GPAs than boys and lower percentages of white and Asian students having Cs, Ds and Fs. They suggested, however, that maybe policymakers and educators could place a “more deliberate” focus on reducing the GPA gap in the same way they have tried to reduce gaps on standardized tests.