Chicago Data Stories: Sarah Duncan

Here at the To&Through Project, we work to make data accessible with an aim to inspire action. As a result, we’ve often had the honor of being privy to our colleagues’ personal reflections on the data we share, and their varying perspectives shape the way we think about this work.

Below, we share Sarah Duncan’s reflections on one of our Data Insights — which summarize years of research from the UChicago Consortium and To&Through Project — and her pushes for thinking about how students’ voices can inform our collective work to improve the system.

These data disrupt our cultural belief in individual ability and talent — that the top students will be fine “because they are smart” — and point to how badly our high schools serve our highest-achieving students, particularly our Black and Latino top achievers. It’s shocking to see such large GPA drops for every racial group, and it’s unacceptable that this effect is double for Black students compared to their white and Asian peers. We can do better.

We know from research and years of practice that ninth grade offers us an amazing window of opportunity to improve students’ academic trajectories. I’d like to know from students what’s working for them in the transition to high school, and what we can do better. Asking these questions could provide us insight into how the systems in our high schools are working, and why our top students, on average, do less well in high school. I’d also like to know which schools don’t see GPA drops for their top-achieving Black and Latino ninth graders. What are they doing differently?

—Sarah Duncan, Co-Executive Director with the Network for College Success

Check out more of the To&Through Project’s Data Insights and tell us about your own reflections.



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The To&Through Project aims to increase high school & post-secondary completion for under-resourced students of color in Chicago & around the country.