If a student passes every class during freshman year of high school, research shows she or he is 3.5 times more likely to graduate four years later.

The Washington Legislature should keep this fact in mind as it debates the state budget. An amendment to the Senate proposal would create a five-school-district pilot to try out a new Ninth Grade On-Track program championed by education advocates Stand for Children.

In 2018, only 73.9 % of high school freshmen passed all of their classes, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. That means a quarter of the class of 2021 is not on track to graduate in four years. Some — but not most — students will overcome this deficit, as the statewide graduation rate is now 79.3 %.

Whether ninth graders are on-track for graduation is one of the new performance indicators in Washington’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan, as a measure of both school quality and student success. This is a reliable measure not tied to test scores.

If Washington wants to see every student graduate from high school ready for college or career, those young people first must earn that diploma.

The Ninth Grade On-Track program, as designed by OSPI, uses both data and interventions to track freshmen and, if necessary, get them back on track. The interventions range from programs to improve attendance to academic tutoring and study groups. Parents get involved through a “student-parent-school compact.” An early warning system uses all kinds of data — from attendance to testing — to identify which students need more help passing their classes.

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Many school districts are already doing some of this work, and the results show improved graduation rates in places like Spokane and Tacoma. This new program is designed to combine everything that is known to work during the crucial 9th-grade year and bombard scholars with positive energy and support.

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The pilot program in the Senate budget would cost $250,000 for the next two years. That’s a good start. But as education researchers have already discovered, success in the 9th grade is already positively connected with improved graduation rates. School districts across the state should be studying this OSPI program and doing their best to embrace its recommendations whether or not they are part of a pilot.

This work is important; school districts should prioritize some budget dollars in this direction this next school year.