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Due to the fact that so many children have difficulty in school, experts call for updating the “early warning system”

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Due to the fact that so many children have difficulty in school, experts call for updating the

When one student begins to lag behind, act, and detach from classes, many schools now have early warning systems that signal the problem and intervene. But what happens when half the class – or half the school – raises such red flags?

“If you just focus on the students who need intervention, you’ll miss the woods behind the trees,” said Carla Gay, executive director of innovation and partnerships at the Graham-Barlow School District in Portland, Ore. a high percentage of students who demonstrate some need for intervention is rather an indicator of the health of the system ”.

This problem is faced by many educators and administrators after years of disruptions in schooling. Although school districts have adopted data systems to track and analyze student performance at an unprecedented rate over the past few years, the creators of these systems warn that indicators and interventions developed before the pandemic may not be enough to get students back on track.

“The pandemic has created greater needs for more children, more dynamic and more diverse and changing needs,” said Robert Balfanz, co-director of the Alumni Center for All at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the first architect of early warning systems for the school. “Sometimes we were so fascinated by technology and [it’s] it’s all about the best data system with the best bells and whistles … but we also need to make sure we’re really focused on those supportive thinking, the human parts of it. “

Balfanz, researchers from the Center for the Social Organization of Schools and the University of Chicago Consortium for the Study of Chicago Schools, and six other research and education groups have launched a project to develop “next-generation” early warning and intervention systems. The aim is to identify a wider range of academic and non-academic indicators for a wider range of students. While first-generation systems have considered critical indicators for high school graduation, for example, version 2.0 may include key transitions in high school and high school on the way to graduation, as well as post-high school success. The project also aims to guide areas in identifying broader, more systemic interventions when larger groups of students are at risk.

Pandemic pushes red flags beyond the “alphabet”

Academic early warning systems have largely evolved as a result of the work of John Hopkins and the Chicago Consortium. Balfanz and his colleagues identified what they called the “alphabet” of student demarcation:

  • Absenteeism, especially for students who chronically miss school, is usually defined as 10 percent or more of the available school days.
  • Behavioral problems such as two or more detentions or deviations from school or out of school; and
  • Course performance, such as non-performance grades and lack of credit completion.

More than a decade of research has shown that combined jumps in these three areas can identify students starting to drop out of school. While most studies have focused on the use of early warning indicators as high school red flags, at least one study in the state of Maryland found that the figures predict an increased risk of dropping out of high school as early as 1st grade.

For example, Balfanz pointed to a recent study by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study found that while mental health problems among high school students increased during the pandemic, students who reported that the school had at least one caring adult and at least one support peer had 50 percent fewer mental health problems. than students who did not have such social support. .

“But again it was a difficult truth [that] only 47 percent of students reported having these connections, and only a third of students were from minorities. So … we know that there was a realm of human needs and human strength that wasn’t necessarily captured by the first set of systems that focused very narrowly on preventing dropouts from high school, ”Balfanz said.

For example, Gay said her Oregon district is working to add resilience and resilience indicators to its early warning system to help determine what protective support students have and what students need it. The county is working with universities to identify academic and behavioral indicators, as well as the socio-emotional and basic well-being needs that most predict success after high school in every grade from kindergarten to 12th.

Although these systems have demonstrated promise, they can also be a difficult lift for districts. “Everything from the teacher’s voice and activities, students’ expectations and their sense of security, administrative leadership – all this is also important not only for the implementation of early warning systems, but also to see the results,” said Elizabeth Kirby. , head of the school district of Cleveland Heights-University-Heights.

Kirby said it is important for district administrators to bring together teachers and administrators from different levels of schools to discuss ways to eliminate red flags in the transition, for example, from high school to high school.

In one estimate in Pennsylvania before the pandemic, early warning systems both chronic absenteeism and course failure have been significantly reduced – both priorities for counties trying to help students regain their lost academic position. But only two of the 37 schools in the study were able to implement the full model, and eight dropped out within a year. The biggest problems? Staff turnover and the constant need for teacher training on how to understand and act with student data.

Gay said the pandemic highlighted systemic inequality that could undermine schools ’efforts to intervene by individual students. The county is working with partners to identify school practices and policies that can help students who have difficulty getting to school due to transportation or other issues.

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