Schools created as part of the small schools movement have been in operation for almost a decade, allowing identification of patterns in their growth. This study examines 4 years of survey data on 12 start-up and 13 conversion small high schools. Start-up small schools, almost all of which began with one grade level and grew by one grade per year, were highly rated in Year 1, relative to students’ previous schools and to a set of established effective schools. A Year 2 dip was followed by a rebound in Years 3 and 4. Conversion schools’ growth trajectory appeared dependent on the school's level of desired autonomy, defined as the amount of decision making the school ideally would have. Schools with higher desired autonomy showed the most growth as measured by student perceptions.
Patterns in student perceptions of start-up and conversion small high schools