And there is another reason that Granger High Principal Jerry Haslam recognizes: Getting a ninth-grader into the high school system could increase his chances of graduating. Students start down the dropout road long before 10th grade. Some drop out before ninth grade, but many make it at least that far. For some of those students, the counselors, faculty, older classmates and extracurriculur activities in high school might help keep them on the rolls.
Kearns, Hunter and Cottonwood, also in Granite district, are in the early stages of investigating moving ninth grade into the high schools. Canyons School District's board decided in 2010 to make the change. As of 2013-14, Canyons' middle schools will include grades six through eight, and high schools will be nine through 12.
Granger's graduation rate is just 60 percent, well below the Beehive State's overall rate of 76 percent. Haslam and his staff surveyed more than 400 students, parents, teachers, staff and community members over a two-month period and found 74 percent were in favor of his proposal to move ninth grade to the high school when a new, expanded Granger High opens in 2013-14.
Nancy Day, a Granger parent and vice chair of the Granger Community Council, favors the proposal. "A lot of times the ninth grade is like their free year, it's their fun year," she said. "I think that's what they're hoping will come about with this change, that they'll take it a little more serious."
There is no room in Utah's struggling public education system for a year of fooling around. Utah's high school graduation rate dropped from a state-reported 90 percent to about 78 percent when a new federally mandated measurement that includes ninth graders was adopted.
Ninth grade is a pivotal year for struggling students. Putting them into classes with older, more mature students and monitoring them more closely could lead to more of them earning that all-important diploma.