The ABCs of Keeping On Track to Graduation: Research Findings from Baltimore

Issue/Topic: At-Risk (incl. Dropout Prevention)
Author(s): MacIver, Martha; Messel, Matthew
Publication: Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk
Published On: 2013

Recitation of the ABCs (attendance, behavior, and course performance) as early warning indicators of high school outcomes has spread dramatically over the past several years as increasing the graduation rate has become a national priority. Researchers have begun to focus more intensely on those malleable factors related to dropout that schools can monitor relatively easily and address through specific interventions designed to turn student behaviors around before they lead to dropout outcomes.

The study probes the relationship between 8th and 9th grade early warning indicators as predictors of graduation outcomes, as well as the relationship between 9th grade indicators and college enrollment outcomes.


  • Equipping schools to implement interventions to address chronic absenteeism and course failure in 9th grade is a crucial strategy for increasing both high school graduation and college enrollment. ¬†
  • The strongest predictors of graduation were 9th grade attendance and course failure, although gender was still significant.

  • Ninth grade attendance rate and course-passing rate was significantly higher for those newly falling off track than for those who were already off track upon entry to high school.
  • Eighth grade test scores remain a significant predictor of college enrollment.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:

  • Intervention is crucial: more than 3/4 of the students with an 8th grade early warning indicator exhibited at least one signal in 9th grade and had the lowest graduation rate (30%).
  • ¬†With intervention, the small group of students who recovered from an 8th grade early warning indicator and finished 9th grade successfully had nearly as high a graduation rate as students with no warning signals either year (85% vs. 92%).
  • It appears crucial to address chronic absence during the middle school years and intervene more intensely during the transition between 8th grade and 9th grade with those students who are already manifesting warning signals.
  • Finding ways to increase learning time during the school year and summer, rather than retaining students in grade in the elementary grades, appears to be a crucial step in reducing the number of students who drop out.

Research Design:
Analyses focused on dichotomous graduation or nongraduation outcomes were conducted using logistic regression hierarchal linear modeling.

12,488 ninth graders in Baltimore City Public Schools.

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
Deidentified yearly administrative student-level data files were accessed from the Baltimore City Public Schools Office of Achievement and Accountability from the mid-1990s through 2009-2010. Cohorts were constructed by identifying 9th graders from administrative records in 2004-2006 then tracing these students back in district records over a 5-year period to see if there were any records of having been enrolled in 9th grade previously in the district. Several other variables were consulted.


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