Parent Engagement and 9th Grade Success

Parent Engagement – 9th Grade Success

Ninth Grade Success

A colleague in a neighboring district once explained that instant success often comes after years of hard work.  HS graduation matters today more than ever.  70% of future family wage jobs will require ‘some’ college and before students can get post-secondary training, they need to graduate.  One of the barriers to on-time graduation is 9th grade failures which may leave some students too far behind to catch up.

Improving Family Engagement

For four years (2015-19), Seattle Public Schools has had a grant to Engage Families in High School Success with Johns Hopkins University.  The grant paid for:

  • Two family events per year
  • Two interventions designed to improve parent participation.
  • Manager of Family Engagement

Theory of Action

The Theory of Action is that IF secondary schools expand their capacity to engage parents; THEN parents will understand the importance of the 8th to 9th grade transition for their child’s success.  The model is based on continuous improvement and improvement science – learning how to learn.

Improvement Steps

At the outset, schools did what they usually did to engage parents.  As might be expected, traditional practices were successful with the PTA parents that come to every event, and less successful with parents who typically do not attend.  At the end of each event, schools were asked to take two steps toward continuous improvement:

  • Survey:

    Ask participants to complete a short survey rating the evening’s event and sharing what they would like to see included next time.

  • Review:

    The school planning team met with the Family Engagement Manager to discuss: How it went, Who was present,  We missed, and What will we do differently for next time.

What to Improve

During the four year grant each school holds eight of these sessions.  In between sessions, their planning team continues to assess what went well, who attended, and what they can do next to improve attendance and participation.


Once each fall, the schools come together for a Family Engagement Summit.  Every school sends a team.  Principals hear from fellow principals what is working in other schools.  Schools meet in paired teams presenting their action plans and getting feedback.

One Example 

One middle school with a strong PTSA was all in – eager to plan an evening event for 8th graders transitioning into high school.  At the event, twenty parents showed up, mostly made up of current and former PTSA officers.  Then they debriefed.  Who came?  Who did not?  How could they be more inviting to parents of color.  They were off and running on their cycle of inquiry.

Getting Better

Gradually schools get better at being invitational.  In an Ed Week article, schools reported making phone calls to parents, having student ambassadors greet parents warmly, providing a meal, showing parents how to use digital check-in tools, and creating joint planning documents for parents and students to do together.  Even simple things like no check-in lines got parents into the sessions earlier.

Being Intentional

Schools got better at including parents of color by thinking intentionally – and asking – what else can we do to make parents feel welcome?  The district partnered with the Family Housing Authority which wrote “nudge” letters reminding parents how important attendance is, especially during the first days and weeks of the new year.

Getting Smarter

Schools involved in the study met during the year to share ideas across buildings.  Principals also shared at monthly principal PD days.  As a result, schools:  a) became much more knowledgeable about the importance of 9th grade and how to support parents; and b) they developed common language and skills to promote family engagement.  In short they learned how to get better and celebrate their success.

9th Grade Success Rates Improved

Final results are not quite in yet but 9th grade success rates did improve. And it looks like getting parents signed up to use the digital connection tools (the Source is used in Seattle) is one positive indicator of greater success going forward.


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Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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