Working paper

Catching up or falling behind: Measuring middle school achievement trajectories for college readiness


By: Angela Johnson, Megan Kuhfeld, Greg King


This study presents a framework that uses academic trajectories in the middle grades for identifying students in need of intervention and providing targeted support. We apply a set of academic college readiness benchmarks to rich longitudinal data for more than 360,000 students in 5900 schools across 49 states and the District of Columbia. In both math and reading, each student was assessed up to six times (fall and spring of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade). We show that student-level and school-level demographic characteristics significantly predict academic trajectories. Compared to White and Asian students, higher proportions of Black and Hispanic student are consistently off-track for college readiness throughout middle school. Among students who started 6th grade on track, being male, Black, Hispanic, and attending schools with a higher percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch are positively associated with falling off track.

The final version of this paper is available at:

Johnson A, Kuhfeld M, & King G. (2021). Measuring middle school achievement trajectories for college readiness. Educational Policy. doi:10.1177/08959048211006833

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