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The Transition to High School as a Developmental Process Among Multiethnic Urban Youth


  • This article is adapted from a doctoral dissertation by Aprile D. Benner submitted to the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. This research was supported by dissertation grants from the Spencer Foundation and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation awarded to Aprile D. Benner and grants from the W. T. Grant Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Linguistic Minority Research Institute awarded to Sandra Graham. The first author would like to thank Bengt Muthen, Rashmita Mistry, and Jaana Juvonen, members of her dissertation committee, and Robert Crosnoe for their helpful suggestions.

concerning this article should be addressed to Aprile D. Benner, Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station G1800, Austin, TX 78712. Electronic mail may be sent to


The high school transition was examined in an ethnically diverse, urban sample of 1,979 adolescents, followed from 7th to 10th grade (Mage = 14.6, SD = .37 in 7th grade). Twice annually, data were gathered on adolescents’ perceptions of school climate, psychological functioning, and academic behaviors. Piecewise growth modeling results indicate that adolescents were doing well before the transition but experienced transition disruptions in psychological functioning and grades, and many continued to struggle across high school. The immediate experience of the transition appeared to be particularly challenging for African American and Latino students when the numerical representation of their ethnic groups declined significantly from middle to high school. Findings highlight the value of examining the transition in a larger developmental context and the importance of implementing transition support.