How to help high school students graduate

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At the UChicago Network for College Success (NCS), we’re energized by recent data. The national public high school graduation rate has increased by 9 percentage points from 73 percent in 2006 to 82 percent in 2014 (NCES, 2016).

In Chicago over the same time period, graduation rates showed even bigger improvements: 16 percentage points—from 57 percent to 73 percent (Nagaoka & Healey, 2016). These rising graduation rates were seen in schools throughout the city and for all types of students, regardless of their achievement level or background. The greatest gains were for African-American and Latino males and low-scoring students (Healey, Nagaoka, & Michelman, 2014).

Perhaps even more exciting—as 5,500 more students graduated, the ACT average score in Chicago rose from 17.6 to 18.4 (Healey, Nagaoka, & Michelman, 2014). That means that students are graduating better prepared for college. At NCS, we’re proud of this progress. For the past decade, through five district administrative changes, NCS has served as an anchor for helping high schools maintain a focus on: Freshman success, improving teaching and learning, and postsecondary access and success for all students.


Our work is largely driven by Freshman On Track: supporting students to succeed in the first year of high school and four key ideas:

  • The transition to high school is the most critical time for high school graduation
  • Course grades in the first year of high school can accurately predict who will graduate
  • The primary driver of course failure is course absence, not weak skills
  • Monitoring and support from adults can prevent failure
As NCS partner schools are reducing dropouts and improving graduation rates sharply and steadily, our role is to translate research into improved practice. That’s why we’re excited to launch NCS’ National Freshman Success Institute and new Freshman On-Track Toolkit. The toolkit is organized around four components that we believe are critical to implementing Freshman On-Track work.

The Freshman On-Track Toolkit, is a collection of reports, resources, and artifacts—including tools sets and videos—to help districts and schools better support students through the critical first year of high school. Learn more.


About NCS

The Network for College Success (NCS) ensures college readiness and success for all students by translating research into practice and supporting high school leaders to organize their schools for improvement. Learn more about NCS and its core beliefs.