In this report, we look closely at students’ performance in their coursework during their freshman year, how it is related to eventual graduation, and how personal and school factors contribute to success or failure in freshman-year courses. We examine the factors that contribute to course performance in the freshman year, showing that success in coursework is affected more by what students do while they are in high school than by their preparation for high school and backgrounds. Finally, we provide evidence that teachers and schools matter for how students perform in their courses, and that efforts to reduce dropout rates are consistent with initiatives to address low achievement.

The content of this report has been summarized into a series of short briefs. These briefs are being made available to parents, students, and teachers in partnership with the Chicago Public Schools, and may be downloaded here in Adobe PDF format:

Building on earlier Consortium research of “on-track indicators” that demonstrated a connection between failing freshman classes and dropping out, the authors found that a number of freshman-year factors can be used to predict high school graduation. Grades are as predictive as on-track indicators; almost all students with a “B” average or better at the end of their freshman year graduate, compared to only a quarter of those with a “D” average. The research also revealed how critical attendance is for freshman success. Conventional wisdom holds that eighth grade test scores are good predictors of students’ likelihood to do well in high school courses. However, course attendance is eight times more predictive of course failure in the freshman year than test scores. Just one week of absence is associated with a much greater likelihood of failure, regardless of incoming achievement.

The authors also examine how school practices affect students’ grades, failure rates and attendance. Students' grades and attendance are particularly better than expected in schools characterized by two features—supportive relationships between teachers and students, and a perception among students that the work they are doing in high school is preparing them for the future.

Click below to view a 90-second episode of GO FIGURE, with Elaine Allensworth explaining Figure 5 of this research (December 13, 2023).