Early warning indicator systems in action: Considerations from identification to supports


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Background/Context: School transitions pose a variety of social-emotional and academic challenges to students, especially those who are more vulnerable due to home, health, or academic challenges. With this awareness, a growing number of school districts have developed and implemented early warning indicator systems (EWISs) aimed at early identification of and support to vulnerable students. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: While a growing body of research has documented EWISs use objective criteria to identify vulnerable students, there is scant scholarship about student identification using subjective tools, the processes that facilitate information sharing and collaboration between sending and receiving schools, and effective student supports. Our study aimed to narrow the gaps in the literature by providing insight about EWI identification, between-school communication, and student supports through the case study of one school district that implemented both objective and subjective EWISs. Our research questions were as follows: (1) Which students have been identified through the district's objective and subjective EWISs?; (2) How have school staff shared information stemming from the EWISs?; and (3) What supports do school staff offer students identified by the objective compared to the subjective EWISs? Research Design: We used a mixed-methods approach, including statistical analysis of student- level administrative records, interviews with district staff, a survey of school staff, and multiple interviews with site staff at a sampling of schools. Conclusions/Recommendations: Identification: Our study found that subjective criteria may be more effective in identifying students who are more likely to be missed by automated identification systems, such as "internalizers." Moreover, stakeholder perception of specific indicators may have an impact on the selection of indicators in use. Sharing of information: The practices that schools use to share information about transitioning students is an area ripe for future research. Our study revealed the importance of designing informationsharing mechanisms with the end user in mind. Developing a standardized rubric and incorporating a scale measure for relative urgency could increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the process. We also identified a tension between the need to share information and the will to protect students' privacy. We see value in localized efforts to mitigate the unintended effects of such tension. Supports: A primary consideration in an EWIS is its alignment to the district's model for the distribution of resources to support students. EWIS design considerations: We identified the existence of tradeoffs between site-level autonomy and system-level coherence in the design of EWISs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number140305
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number14
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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