Early indicator and response systems, sometimes referred to as early warning systems, use academic and attendance information to identify individual students at high risk of dropping out of school (Princiotta & Reyna, 2009). Research suggests that students who eventually drop out of high school exhibit strong predictive indicators of dropping out, such as infrequent attendance, behavior infractions, and course failure. These indicators may be used to predict high school graduation as early as the start of middle school (Balfanz, Bridgeland, Moore, & Fox, 2010).
Early indicator and response systems may be used to identify individual students at risk of dropping out and to identify common risk factors in particular schools. Using the information from these systems, educators can provide students at risk of dropping out with the extra supports they need to succeed in school.
Additionally, early indicator and response systems limit the costs of dropout prevention by enabling schools and districts to target assistance to students likely to drop out (Princiotta & Reyna, 2009). The cost of building an accurate early indicator and response system may be relatively small compared with the cost of providing unfocused interventions or reforms meant to increase overall graduation rates (Jerald, 2006).
The Minnesota Department of Education is developing of a screening tool to assist educators in tracking and supporting student progress toward graduation from high school in four years.
The purpose of an early indicator and response system is to:
Researchers agree that student absences, grade retention, low academic achievement, and behavioral problems are strong indicators for dropping out (Dynarski et al., 2008). Early indicator and response systems can be based on data routinely collected at the school and district levels such as attendance, behavior, course achievement, and student age and grade (Princiotta & Reyna, 2009).
Early indicator and response system data need to be regularly updated and easily accessible. To use the system effectively, teachers and counselors need timely data that are easy to interpret (Princiotta & Reyna, 2009).
After building an early indicator and response system, schools and districts can take the information from data to action by offering supports for students. Once students are identified as being at risk of dropping out, teachers, counselors, and community partners can intervene with targeted dropout prevention strategies (Princiotta & Reyna, 2009).
In some situations, students may require one-on-one counseling to address their problems. Interventions also could be targeted at the group level. For example, if several students exhibit risk factors related to low academic performance in a particular content area, catch-up courses could be offered.
Interventions also may be provided at a school- or community-wide level, to create conditions that help prevent students from developing risk factors in the first place (Jerald, 2006). The effectiveness of an early indicator and response system lies in the ability of the school or district to use the data collected to provide supports to the students who exhibit high risk factors for dropping out.
Balfanz, R., Bridgeland, J. M., Moore, L. A., & Fox. J. H. (2010). Building a grad nation: Progress and challenge in ending the high school dropout epidemic. Baltimore, MD: Everyone Graduates Center; Washington, DC: America’s Promise Alliance.
Dynarski, M., Clarke, L., Cobb, B., Finn, J., Rumberger, R., & Smith, J. (2008). Dropout prevention (NCEE 2008–4025). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.
Jerald, C. D. (2006). Identifying potential dropouts: Key lessons for building an early warning data system. Washington, DC: Achieve.
Princiotta, D., & Reyna, R. (2009). Achieving graduation for all: A governor’s guide to dropout prevention and recovery. Washington, DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.