Transition to High School

We know from research that a smooth transition to ninth grade contributes to students’ success in high school and beyond, while an unsupported transition from eighth grade to high school creates early barriers to belonging and academic engagement that can lead to students dropping out. School staff need to structure and facilitate this transition by preparing students for the academic, social, cultural, and practical demands of a new level of school. Collaborative transition planning between schools and with families and students is essential for school staff to employ a holistic approach to support students during this precarious time. 

  • How can faculty and staff create and implement a transition program that will address the needs of all students?
  • How can school leaders prioritize classroom practices that support the social emotional learning and well-being of students?
Examples, Tools and Strategies
Strategies Aligned Resources

Create a Student Success Team  

A Student Success Team is a school-based, multi-disciplinary team of educators who collaboratively identify strategies they will enact to meet the needs of individual students.  The team works in a collaborative manner with others who are directly involved in the student’s school life such as parent(s)/caretakers, counselors, and the student. Team members must remain knowledgeable about the supports for students that are available within their district and/or community and must convene regularly to monitor the impact of supports and interventions using student data.

Use this Freshman Success Framework + Add to Action Plan from the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago to form your team and develop successful practices to help freshmen succeed.

Implement a district approach  

COVID-19 exposed inequities not only at the school level for many students and families, but also in the district systems that are tasked with enabling learning for all students. For schools to successfully navigate the transition back to school, they need district-level policies and supports that are focused on equity and rooted in data. To ensure equitable outcomes, district leaders must advocate for additional funding; reprioritize resources; streamline district initiatives; identify critical data metrics; and center students and families as partners to better understand needs, problem solve, and establish community.  

Review this resource for district- and state-level leaders: Ensuring Successful Student Transitions from the Middle Grades to High School. + Add to Action Plan It outlines research on the importance and impact the 9th grade year can have on a student  graduation possibilities as well as how states can strategically fund programs and services to help make the transition supportive for students. 

Engage students in their transition 

When strategically included, 9th grade students can be insightful, realistic, reflective, and innovative in identifying and developing plans to address their needs. To keep students front-and-center, school staff must establish structured check-in protocols with students to ensure that their academic and social emotional needs are addressed.  Offer students a formal role in the transition planning process so that they can create transition goals, share personal struggles, and identify which supports are most crucial for their individual success. 

Read and share this resource from CASEL: Elevate Student Voice + Add to Action Plan. It contains an assessment rubric and guidance on how to integrate student leadership and feedback in SEL efforts, including SEL teams, youth-led research, and leadership opportunities, all of which can be applied to transition planning and initiatives. 

Review this resource for District and State level leaders: Ensuring Successful Student Transitions from the Middle Grades to High School + Add to Action Plan. It outlines research on the importance and impact the 9th grade year can have on a student’s HS graduation possibilities as well as how states can strategically fund programs and services to help make the transition supportive for students.

Incorporate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles 

Transition needs for students vary widely. By taking into account the needs of diverse students and families, a UDL-based approach can help educational leaders and staff develop programming that serves all learners and promotes educational equity. This can include multiple avenues for providing information to students and families, ensuring a range of opportunities for students to take action and express themselves in transition activities, and multiple ways of engaging students’ interest and attention throughout the transition process.   

Review this article  + Add to Action Plan by Australian researchers to understand how UDL principles can be applied to transition planning and activities. Annex 1 includes a table with examples for reaching students with diverse needs (e.g., modeling a high school schedule for middle schoolers, soliciting student feedback through surveys and group discussions, goal setting for incoming students).