Chart of the Week: 9th grade repetition is down after the pandemic

October 26, 2023
  • Chelsea Coffin
  • Hannah Mason
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Pandemic recovery has been a huge challenge for schools and students, and every cohort experienced the two years of disruption differently. Some things that happened in the first two years of the pandemic have continuous impacts that we are just beginning to understand.  

One such systemic change is the decline in 9th grade repetition. Typically, repetition tends to be very high among 9th graders. This is because it is the first year where grade promotion depends on specific quantifiable metrics. School policies vary, but high school students generally need to accumulate a certain number of credits to be promoted to the next grade.1

Before the pandemic, 9th grade repetition was on the rise. In school year 2019-20, 28 percent of all ninth graders were repeaters. In school year 2021-22, that share fell to 25 percent. This is likely due to the relaxation of related requirements around grading and attendance during the pandemic, which made it easier to earn the requisite credits for grade promotion. 2

Declines in grade repetition are more likely to due to these rule changes than achievement because we have not seen academic growth and recovery for high school students in the last two years. 3

Student groups who receive additional funding supports were more likely to see large decreases in repetition. For example, 9th grade repetition for English learners was cut back by a third (declining from 20 percent to 10 percent). Repetition among at-risk students and students with disabilities declined by 5 percentage points (a one-sixth decline). Latino students experienced a large decline of 14 percentage points.

bar graph showing Percent of 9th grade repetition by race and special population status

On the surface, more students passing ninth grade is a positive outcome, but it is one of many areas of education that shifted during the pandemic. Chronic absenteeism is higher, especially for high school students, than pre-pandemic. And even through D.C. students are graduating high school at higher rates, enrollment in postsecondary institutions and completion declined during the pandemic.4

Most students who were in these 9th grade cohorts are now juniors and seniors, and impacts are likely to continue for them. It is really important to support these students through rigorous programs such as high-impact tutoring, and increased interventions and supports. Schools have access to ESSER funds for the last time this school year, and their investments will hopefully make a difference in academic outcomes in addition to promotion. 


  1. District of Columbia Municipal Regulations. Education -Grades, Promotion, and Graduation, 5-E DCMR § 2201. 2014. Retrieved from
  2. D.C. Policy Center. 2023. State of D.C. Schools, 2021-22. Retrieved from
  3. Coffin, C. 2023. Chart of the week: New PARCC data show overall gain for DC students last year—but high school progress remained flat. Retrieved from
  4. D.C. Policy Center. 2023. State of D.C. Schools, 2021-22. Retrieved from


Chelsea Coffin

Director of the Education Policy Initiative
D.C. Policy Center

Chelsea Coffin joined the D.C. Policy Center in September 2017 as the Director of the Education Policy Initiative. Her research focuses on how schools connect to broader dynamics in the District of Columbia. She has authored reports on diversity in D.C.’s schools, the D.C. schools with the best improvement for at-risk students, and the transition after high school in D.C. Chelsea has also conducted planning analysis at the D.C. Public Charter School Board, carried out research at the World Bank, and taught secondary school with the Peace Corps in Mozambique.

Chelsea holds a Bachelor of Arts from Middlebury College and a Master of Arts from Johns Hopkins University (SAIS) in International Economics and Development.

You can reach Chelsea at

Hannah Mason

Senior Education Research Analyst
D.C. Policy Center

Hannah Mason is the Senior Education Research Analyst at D.C. Policy Center. 

Prior to joining the Policy Center in 2023, Hannah served as Emergent Bilingual Coordinator and Instructional Coach at Nashville, Tennessee. She was most proud of her abilities to build community amongst her students, drive language acquisition success, and advocate tirelessly for equity in and outside of the classroom for her students. In addition, she began her teaching career in Houston, Texas where her love of teaching and literacy blossomed.

Hannah is originally from Dublin, Georgia. She holds a bachelor’s in religion and teaching English to speakers of other languages from The University of Georgia. Hannah most recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with an MPP concentrating in K-12 Education Policy.