What are early warning systems and how can they be used for universal screening at the high school level?

Question: What are early warning systems and how can they be used for universal screening at the high school level?

Mindee O'Cummings: The dropout problem in this country has become a crisis and we know that it impacts, or has the potential to impact all students but that some students have the higher potential of being impacted by this problem and because of that we wanted to develop ways of identifying those students that are at highest risk of dropping out. In Chicago, at the Chicago Consortium on School Research in Johns Hopkins, they started to do research to look at what indicators are most highly correlated with those students that drop out of high school and through that research they were able to identify a couple of indicators predominately related to academic course performance and attendance. In 2008 the National High School Center became very interested in that research and wondered about how that research be taken to practice and from that developed an early warning system, which was a Microsoft excel-based spreadsheet that took students' academic and attendance data and identified, based on the research of the thresholds identified in the research, which students were at highest risk of dropping out. This tool was really well received. It was downloaded by many schools and districts across the country and even two states have adopted it and rolled it out statewide and we really enjoyed helping schools and working with schools in implementing this early warning system but what became really apparent to us is that it was being done in isolation of other activities at the school level. So they were identifying these students and it was definitely feeding or informing other activities but it kind of became a dead end process in some regards. But also, simultaneously, we saw a lot of schools who were able to implement it within in a process and we wanted to capture that and capture that knowledge. So the National High School Center more recently developed a seven-stage process for implementing an early warning system and developed an early warning system tool version 2.0. The seven stage process of implementing an early warning system starting with identifying an early warning system team that would be responsible for using this tool and identifying these students and monitoring then the response to intervention goes through the whole process of using the tool, identifying students, analyzing the data, assigning interventions, monitoring the response to interventions and then being reflective of not only how students were doing but how is the team working and how is this process being implemented at the school level and continuing to validate the thresholds. The early warning system tool that we recently released is identical in many ways to the original tool in that it uses the same threshold, the same research based to identify students that are at risk of dropping out but it incorporates a lot of new features including being able to be contextualized for the school environment meaning that depending upon how many grading periods, the length of each of those grading periods and then also what kind of ways does that school categorize students. So, specifically, what kind of students with disabilities categories, or special education categories are used at the school, ELL, disadvantaged and that's really important because we know, as I said previously, that some students and some student populations are disproportionately represented and schools really not only need to be able to have the ability to identify those specific students but then look at those patterns across types of students and that can help the school implement interventions at a really student specific level but also can start targeting patterns that arise at that school. Other new features of the new early warning system tool is school and student level reporting. School level reports provide graphical representation of the data so its ruled out that it's not identifiable, can be shared with multiple stakeholders across the school and then the student level reports show how individual students are doing against these indicators and or in response to the interventions assigned. An early warning system like that developed by the National High School Center enables teams at the school level to not only use readily available data to identify those students that are at highest risk of dropping out but then to react to that data with a series of activities because this just shows there's a symptom of a problem so they can take that data to then further analyze or explore what could be going on for that individual student and with that information then develop intervention plans and monitor that individual student's response to that intervention. The National High School Center's tool actually enables the team to do all of that within that whole process using the same tool in a really kind of user friendly manner.