How Early Warning Systems Can Help Improve School Outcomes

Why Early Warning
Systems Matter and Where
They Are Going Next
Robert Balfanz
Everyone Graduates Center
Johns Hopkins University
March 11, 2014
Our Nation Faces a Graduation Challenge
• There is little work for young adults without a high
school degree
• And no work to support a family without some postsecondary schooling or training
• As a result entire communities are being cut off from
participation in American society and a shot at the
American Dream
• This weakens the Nation
Dropping Out of High School Means You
Are Much More Likely
• To be out of the labor market as full time employed
• To be incarcerated
• To have health issues and at an earlier age
• To pass on these set of disadvantages to your
• As a result, dropping out has high individual and
community costs
This Presents our Schools and
Communities with a Big Challenge
• Every student regardless of needs, prior levels of
school success, and current motivations needs to
graduate from high school prepared to succeed in
post-secondary school and training
In Era When All Students Need to
Graduate Prepared for College and
• The best teachers and the best curriculum are not
• Students also need to attend school regularly, focus in
class, and complete their assignments
• Poverty complicates this and the challenges are
• Schools can and need to be organized to help enable
students to attend, behave, and try
Early Warning Systems keep students
on the path to high school graduation
and improve school outcomes
• Signals when students are just beginning to fall off the
path to high school graduation
• Helps get the right intervention to the right student at the
right time
• Enables schools to maximize impact of critical
resources-time and funding
• Shows which students need stronger adult relationships
• Enables adults to pool their knowledge, talents and time
to change student behavior and solve problems
What Will the Next
Generation of Early
Warning Systems
Look Like?
Summary Findings from Early
Adopters of Early Warning
Systems Conference Held at Bush
Institute Nov. 2013
Good News: Schools and Districts Across
the Country are Adapting Early Warning
Systems to Work in Their Community
• By building a response system matched to the scale and scope
of their challenges
• In schools with 20 or fewer students with off-track indicators
individual counselors, social workers, or graduation coaches
have led the effort
• In schools with 20 and 50 students small dedicated teams of
staff members - e.g. student support teams have been
• When more than 50 students are involved teacher teams will
need to play a critical role
• In all cases investments in mission building, professional
development, coaching and networking have been critical to
Good News: Dropout Prevention and College
and Career Readiness Can Be Propelled by a
Unified System of Predictive Indicators and
Tiered Evidence Based Interventions
• Consistent Finding that no matter how you look at it or
at what grade - the ABC’s - Attendance, Behavior, and
Course Performance - are predictive of student
• Students who attend school regularly, behave/try/selfmange, and do well in their courses graduate from high
school and succeed in college
• Students who do not, dropout or do not succeed in
Good News: The ABC’s are Actionable
• Attendance, behavior, and course performance can
be modified and improved through organized and
informed actions at the school, district, and
community level
• This provides a coherent message to schools and
students-drive up good attendance, behavior and
course performance, pay attention to and
prevent/intervene when low attendance, problematic
behavior, and poor course performance occur
Good News: Grades 5 to 14 Can be
Viewed as an Ecosystem
• Early adolescence to early adulthood is a distinct
phase of life
• To build pathways from poverty to adult success we
need to get all students through this stretch
• Pre-k to 4th grade “on track” metrics are important
but they may or may not be the same as–early
adolescence to early adulthood metrics–we do not
know yet–except that attendance always matters
Good News: We Know the Key
Inflection Points
• Students who are good at school by 9th grade by and
large succeed, those that struggle and do not earn
promotion to 10th grade by and large do not
• Most but not all students 9th grade trajectories are set
in the middle grades
• Chronic absenteeism in the early grades sets students
up to fall off-track in the middle grades
• To pivot from high school to adult success many
students need help navigating the grade 10 through
the initial years of college space
Challenges: Behavior Domain is
• We are just starting to identify the behavior signals
that indicate students are on and off track to adult
• Hence its an area both ripe for innovation and for
making mistakes
• But there does seem to be value added in bringing
in more expanded and closer to real time behavior
Two Sixth Graders
Challenges: Indicators Can Identify Too
Many Needy Kids in One Place
• Once a student has an off-track indicator reversing
course will require either changing student behavior
and/or solving a problem
• Both of these require an effective relationship between
an adult and the student
• Need to get to place where early warning indicators
are used to direct evidence based prevention
activities and resource allocation at the school,
district, and state level
Challenges: Need to Gain Broad
Acceptance of the Validity of Indicators
• Solution – Need to convince more people that
attendance and grades matter as much as test
scores for student success
In sum, what we face is a giant
engineering challenge of creating
schools designed to enable all
students to graduate prepared for
college and career and within them
getting the right support to the right
students at the right time at the scale
and intensity required.
The Good News is we are, as folks in
this room are showing, good at
engineering challenges
For more information
• Visit the Everyone Graduates Center
website at
• E-mail Robert Balfanz at
[email protected]

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