What is it?
Arguably the most important preventative element in addressing dropout prevention is establishing an early warning system (and the use of data) to determine who is at risk of dropping out of school. Indicators made available through an early warning system can help schools target students in need with appropriate interventions.
There are three essential pieces of data that need to be gathered to predict with relative accuracy which students will eventually dropout of school. These include:
- Behavior; and
- Course Failure.
Why is it important?
The first step of dropout prevention is to understand who is at risk of dropping out. Dropout interventions should be matched to the specific characteristics and climate of the school and its students who are at risk of dropping out. The source of why youth are dropping out in the specific context of their environment is important to understand in order to accurately treat the problem. Research shows that students at risk of dropping out give warning signals years in advance, which provide clear guidance for implementing interventions aimed at keeping students on track to graduate. It is essential to develop a school- or district-wide, data-based early warning system aimed at identifying which students are particularly at risk of failing so that interventions can be effectively carried out.
Dropouts are not only a “high school problem.” Most future dropouts may be identified as early as sixth grade and many can be identified even earlier. Districts and schools should design an early warning system that tracks school level data for each individual school. Research suggests that school level factors such as grades, retention, attendance, and classroom behavior and engagement are better predictors of dropout than fixed status indicators such as gender, race, and poverty.
These indicators will give quality quantitative data, but it is equally important to gather qualitative data. In a study of Chicago Public Schools, researchers Allensworth and Easton show how freshmen with weak academics entering high school who reported a positive ninth grade academic experience graduated at nearly twice the rate of incoming freshmen with strong academics who reported a negative night grade academic experience, suggesting a link between social and emotional learning to students succeeding in school, as well.
School climate surveys can offer a great way of not only learning about what is not working in achieving a positive school climate, and just as importantly can capture the strategies the school is currently employing that help build a positive environment in the school.
With appropriate indicators identified through an early warning system, and with qualitative data from school climate surveys and other sources, interventions can more accurately be oriented around individual student needs, and work in conjunction with school wide interventions.
It is important to remember that schools who wish to implement an early warning system must be willing to share regularly updated data, and provide training in the use of that data, with teams engaged in the dropout prevention effort, including teachers, and may include afterschool and summer school providers.