Early-warning data systems identify potential dropouts

iStock_000004579760XSmallEarly-warning data is being used by schools, districts and states to identify students at high risk for dropping out, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. These early-warning systems use high-yield academic indicators such as course grades, GPA, class rank behavior marks, attendance rates, etc. to intervene with students at high risk of not graduating.

“While educators cannot change the out-of-school factors that may contribute to a students’ decision to drop out, by focusing on improving students’ academic performance they can reduce how much those nonacademic factors interfere with students’ eventual educational success,” according to a recent policy brief. Extensive research on identifying potential dropouts has found that there are reliable predictors as early as 4th-6th grades.

Many educators already target low-achieving students in an informal way, but an early-warning data system formalizes the process and makes the information understandable and actionable in a strategic way throughout a school, the brief says.

Researchers from the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University are currently working with more than 10 school districts to develop early-warning data systems.

Besides identifying indicators, it’s important to set triggers–that is at what number, percent or in which grade is the indicator a stimulus for action? In Philadelphia, for example, in identifying factors that predicted a 75% chance of dropping out, researchers found that less than 80% attendance was the tipping point in 8th grade while less than 70% attendance was the tipping point in 9th grade.

Some examples of early-warning systems include: Louisiana’s Abbeville High School has developed an early-warning system and a 5-level intervention system that includes a program for all 9th-grade students known as the “freshman academy.” At-risk students are identified every three weeks, using discipline, attendance, overall GPA, and decline in GPA as warning indicators. A progressively intensive series of interventions include mandatory tutoring, staff and student mentors, and increased communication with families. At the end of the 2008 school year, 90% of 9th graders were promoted to 10th grade.

Chicago Public Schools is piloting an early-warning and intervention system in six of its high schools. Analyzing students’ historical data, the central office provides each school with a list of at-risk students. The school then uses this information and other school-based data (extracurricular activities, parent engagement, academic and discipline records to develop individual intervention strategies that address four issues: parent engagement, connection to the school community, social and emotional support and academic support.

Using Early-Warning Data to Improve Graduation Rates: Closing Cracks in the Education System, policy brief, August 2008, Alliance for Excellent Education.

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