More than just a number: student and educator perceptions about the transition to ninth grade


Jody K. Sloat

Date of Award





Doctor of Education


Counseling, Foundations & Leadership


The transition to ninth grade can be a difficult time for adolescents. New students confront the unknown on the first day, and their anxieties combine with new surroundings, teachers, and older students, to make for a stressful experience (Benner & Graham, 2009). Some students enter high school more prepared to meet academic and social challenges, while others have not matured enough to realize success (Graber & Brooks-Gunn, 1996; Steinberg, 2011). This lacking in maturity leads to high numbers of behavior problems and failures in ninth grade (Alspaugh, 1998; Frey, Ruchkin, Martin & Schwab-Stone, 2009). According to stage-environment fit theory, these transition issues are the result of high schools not meeting the developmental needs of ninth graders. Those adolescents who are in an environment that does not support or even suppresses their needs will experience negative outcomes. (Eccles & Buchanan, 1996; Gutman & Eccles, 2007). Districts across the country are discovering ways to ease the transition period from middle to high school for students−including “school-within-a-school” iii freshman academies. Research indicates ninth-grade academies improve student achievement and behavior (McIntosh & White, 2006; Morgan & Hertzog, 2001; Styron & Peasant, 2010), yet few studies ask students and educators what they think about the programs. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to describe and compare both student and educator perceptions about the transition and adjustment to high school using stage-environment fit theory in one Southeastern school district southwest of Atlanta. Furthermore, comparisons of perceptions were made between students and educators participating in a freshman academy and those in a traditional high school. This study was made to help administrators learn more about perceptions of students and educators regarding the first year of high school.

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