Upstream Thinking . . . How to get early warning of the problem?

“Much of the discussion in education reform centers on implementing new technology, curricula, and school models, and on attracting more investment and talent.  Meetings where educators gather to talk about students? Systems and structures to ensure that students reliably receive the support they need?  That’s not on anyone’s short list of cutting-edge, high-impact reform.” 

~ Emily Krone Phillips

The above quote comes from the 2019 book, The Make-or-Break Year: Solving the Dropout Crisis One Ninth Grader at a Time. Emily Krone Phillips relays the story of how the systems and structures that Chicago Public Schools put in place ultimately served as an early-warning system to provide the support that students needed.  It was in the late 1990s that researchers at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research identified an interesting statistical relationship.  “Students who passed their courses in ninth grade almost always went on to graduate.  Those who failed more than one semester of a course almost always dropped out, even if they had excelled in elementary school” (p. 4).  What the researchers had uncovered was that freshman year academic performance was the best predictor of whether or not a student would graduate from high school.  This finding prompted the University of Chicago Consortium to develop the structure, the Freshman OnTrack indicator which was widely used not only in Chicago schools but beyond.  This early-warning system encouraged teachers, administrators, policymakers, researchers, and nonprofit organizations across the city to create new strategies for supporting freshmen.  Freshman OnTrack became a movement.  Schools figured out what worked best for their students.  Teachers talked together on what worked and what didn’t.  Ideas were modified to fit the context of the schools. It was this team approach that figured most prominently across the district.  Relationships among teachers and between teachers and students were transformed.  The Freshman OnTrack movement was so successful that the district moved to apply the basic tenets of the program across K-12.  

As mentioned in the Leader’s corner, a brief released by the U.S. Department of Education in September 2016, defines an early-warning system as a system based on student data to identify students who exhibit behavior or academic performance that puts them at risk of dropping out of school. Michigan has an early-warning system in place.  The Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System (EWIMS) is an evidence-based process for identifying and monitoring students who are at risk of dropping out of school.  If you can identify student issues early on, you can strategically address student needs before students fail.  

Let’s now think about the early-warning systems that districts using the Blueprint have in place.

As you read in both the Chicago Public Schools example and the Michigan EWIMS process, data drives decision making.  When districts use their Problem-Solving System to examine data they are looking for early-warning signs of which students need more support.  The Communications System allows the district to gather and disseminate the information to all relevant parties.  Teachers are examining data during their collaborative routines so that they can respond accordingly through their instruction.  Data may often lead teachers and leaders to utilize the Student Support Network to address the non-academic needs of students.  Instructional Leadership Routines enable leaders to respond to the early-warning signs by providing guidance for teachers and other support staff.  The Building Network and District Network examine school-level data to decide what supports are needed.  Collecting and analyzing relevant data [both academic and non-academic] in order to identify student outcome issues, understanding the root causes of the issues, selecting, implementing, and evaluating the impact of intervention supports are critical in an early-warning system.  The Performance Management System allows the district to establish a shared understanding about what is to be achieved and to what degree the district is achieving its goals. Blueprint systems and routines help a district use data-based decision making as part of an early-warning system to meet the needs of the students.

As you can see, the Blueprint does indeed provide the systems and structures to ensure that students reliably receive the support they need.  In your role as a teacher, how are you going to make sure that you operate with an early-warning system mentality as you seek to meet the needs of your students?