On Track Across Four Cohorts: Ninth Grade On-Track Patterns in

the School District of Philadelphia, 2013-2017

Publication date: October 2018

Publication series: Starting Strong

Authors: Molly Crofton, Kendra Strouf



This brief is an addendum to the May 2018 PERC report, Getting on Track to Graduation. Focusing on two cohorts of first-time ninth grade students (the Classes of 2019 and 2020), Getting on Track to Graduation examined the extent to which students earned the required number and type of course credits to be considered on-track to graduation. This brief extends analyses from the previous report with data from two additional cohorts of first-time freshmen (the Classes of 2017 and 2018) to better understand whether the patterns described in the original report have been consistent over time.  


In 2018, the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) established a new Ninth Grade On-Track Definition. To be considered on track to graduation, a student completing the first year of high school must have earned at least one credit in each core subject (English, mathematics, science, and social studies), plus one additional credit from any subject.


This study applies the 2018 Ninth Grade On-Track Definition to students who were first-time ninth graders in the SDP during 2013-14 (the Class of 2017), 2014-15 (the Class of 2018), 2015-16 (the Class of 2019), or 2016-17 (the Class of 2020). Although the On-Track Definition was not in place at the time these students were in ninth grade, the analysis provides a benchmark against which progress can be measured and identifies characteristics of students who might need additional support to start strong when they enter high school.


  • Approximately 66 percent of first-time ninth graders were on track across all four cohorts of students, but on-track rates were highest in the most recent cohort (the Class of 2020).  Across all four years studied, 65 to 68 percent of first-time ninth graders were on track to graduate at the end of their first year of high school. Members of the Class of 2020, who were ninth graders in 2016-17, had the highest on-track rate compared to the three other cohorts.

  • In the Class of 2020, off-track students were closer to being on track than students in other years. Almost half of the off-track students in the Class of 2020 (48 percent) were missing only one requirement, compared to 39 to 42 percent of students in other cohorts.   

  • The Class of 2020 on-track rates of Black and Hispanic/Latino students improved more than the rates of White students. This suggests that the improvement in the on-track rate in the Class of 2020 was driven more by increases for Black and Hispanic/Latino students than for White students.

  • Neighborhood high schools had the lowest on-track rates but also had the largest improvement in the Class of 2020. In each year studied, neighborhood schools had the lowest on-track rates with values ranging from 49 to 61 percent. However, neighborhood schools also showed the largest improvement with the Class of 2020, indicating that they were the main source of the increasing on-track rate in that year.


SDP and its partners can continue to track these indicators over time. As SDP and other stakeholders undertake additional efforts to support ninth graders, it will be important to know whether outcomes are changing, which schools are driving any changes that we observe, and whether some subgroups of students are improving more than others. These data can help Philadelphians to understand not only whether indicators are moving in the right direction but also what might be driving the improvement and where more effort is needed.

PERC Report (2018)
Getting On Track to Graduation:
Ninth Graders' Credit Accumulation in the School District of Philadelphia, 2015-2017
SDP Report (2018)
Defining 9th Grade Success: A New 9th Grade On Track Definition.
This report, by the School District of Philadelphia, explains the Ninth Grade On Track Definition and how it correlates with high school graduation. PERC reports on the ninth grade transition use the Ninth Grade On Track Definition as a key outcome.
PERC Report (2018)
Ready from the Start: Identifying
and Supporting At-Risk Ninth Graders from their Earliest Days in High School
PERC Report (2019)
Present from the Start: Identifying
and Supporting At-Risk Ninth Grader Attendance Patterns in Philadelphia, 2015-2017