“Early warning indicator systems are about that threshold that we're going to intervene at early. It is the actionable piece to have more equitable student outcomes as well. It’s not just the kids that are on our hearts and minds that we're supporting. It's also those kids who are really quiet. They show up all the time, but maybe they're not getting good grades, you know. So we really are trying to figure out why students are struggling.”
A significant advantage of a high-functioning, Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is that schools can be proactive with their data, identifying students at risk and acting quickly to put them back on the path to success.
Early Warning Indicators (EWI) help educators identify secondary students at risk of school failure and dropout. EWI data includes:
In our podcast conversation with Sarah Frazelle, formerly the Director of MTSS and EWI for the Puget Sound Educational Service District, she shared insights into the barriers that leaders often face using data to prevent risks, and how they can be overcome.
Recommendations for Actionable EWI Data
Secondary schools are working hard to help keep students in school and on the path to graduation. Sarah shared some insight that could help.
1. Organize the Data Itself
“Everybody has student information systems. Everybody's already collecting it. Then, we get into it, but we can't put the data together in these ways — that kind of flag students quickly, especially if we're looking across multiple indicators.”
The data itself can be overwhelming or cumbersome and should be prioritized and organized before meetings. That way, the data can be presented in a clear format to help busy educators make timely decisions. Using a platform such as Branching Minds can help bring all the data together.
Be careful to keep your data simple!“A lot of times when we talk to teacher teams or school-based teams, there's so much data that they have access to that. It's hard to focus on, but which students are really really trying to support. We get lost in all of that. And so I think that's the other powerful thing about early warning indicators, just look at these 3 things. Look at the interaction between them, and then we can start to have those conversations about what might support those.”
2. Be Systematic About Interventions
“Obviously, the data alone is not going to change outcomes. Getting systematic around the interventions is another difficult thing. We have so many different programs going on in the schools. Maybe we have a student support team, and we maybe have an MTSS team, and we maybe have a teacher grade level team meetings, and we have X , Y and Z. Everybody's kind of doing things in silos, and there's not a lot of communication across teams.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Work on examining what is already being done by teams or staff, and be transparent with everyone about where specific support is coming from and, what interventions are available, and what is working. “We've got all the initiative and the build-up with putting the kids in the interventions and supports. And then we're not following up to see if they're actually making the difference. Was this successful? What was the return on the investment of what we're putting into this.”
“A lot of our kids are feeling like they aren't connected to school, like they belong here, or they have any agency over what's going on. The more that we can kind of understand and unpack those pieces and actually implement as interventions school-wide. How do we increase the sense of belonging and have some of these conversations with the kids and families and communities actually to create an environment that feels supportive.”
EWI data helps us understand trends and root causes to plan effective interventions for students. This involves building a supportive school and community culture. “We know that if a student even has one person that they're connecting to in school, their outcomes are much better later on.” Secondary students are beginning to vote with their feet. They are struggling with the relevancy of school, and when they start to disconnect, they are more at risk of dropping out.
EWI data is a powerful tool to help educators intervene at critical moments in a student’s journey to graduation.
“I think that every child has the ability to succeed. It's that we all don't work in the same ways. And so how do we get down to those root causes as soon as we start to see that a student is struggling so that they don't lose hope and end up dropping out or being pushed out of school.”
Larissa Napolitan is the Digital Content Creator for Branching Minds and the host of Branching Minds' podcast "Schoolin' Around." As a former middle school English teacher and instructional coach, she has over 13 years of experience building systems for improvement, training and coaching teachers in new technology and instructional methods, and leading efforts to build curriculum and literacy initiatives. She holds Masters's degree in Curriculum and Instruction and Education Administration from Emporia State University. Not only is she passionate about using her experience and academic knowledge, but loves to use her writing and voice to make a broader impact on education, teachers, and students.