Cornelia Grumman
U.S. News & World Report
TRANSITIONS ARE HARD. The first day at a new job. When the baby goes from two naps to one. That moment between the "House of Cards" credits and the theme music for the next episode.

Joking aside, transitions are especially hard for students and teachers. In Chicago, where most elementary schools span from kindergarten all the way through eighth grade, and students make one huge leap into high school (often one that isn’t their neighborhood school), freshman year poses a particular challenge.

It’s easier to withdraw or even skip class. It’s harder to form relationships with teachers and to figure out how to get help with coursework. The adults in the building often don’t know if you’re an honors kid, a foster kid, a kid whose job supports the family or a kid about to fall in with the wrong crowd. There’s a lot more freedom. There’s a lot more responsibility. And you have all the impulse control, risk aversion and future foresight of a 14-year-old.

Even kids who look like they’re doing great in the middle grades slip during freshman year. The Consortium on Chicago School Research found that grades declined between 8th and 9th grade for high- and low-achieving students, in high-performing and low-performing schools, and for every demographic group – boys and girls of all races and ethnicities. The average freshman unweighted GPA is below a C.