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Can ‘Early Warning Systems’ Keep Children From Dropping Out Of School?

A half-dozen sixth-grade teachers sat in a circle inside an empty classroom, poring over sheets of data showing their students’ attendance, grades and discipline. They were looking for children who were sliding, whose records indicated they were in danger of falling off the track to high school graduation.

Marissa Johnson urged them to highlight those students’ names in yellow. “Our goal is to identify students who need to finish strong,” said Johnson, an employee of Diplomas Now, a Johns Hopkins University program that helps teachers here, at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School, identify students in need of extra support.

The research is clear: If you want to know whether a child is on a path toward graduating or dropping out, standardized test scores are not very useful. Far more telling is whether that child comes to school regularly, behaves in class and earns passing grades.

A growing number of states and school districts have begun closely examining attendance, grades and discipline records for even the youngest students in elementary school, searching for warning flags. Such “early warning systems” give schools a chance to intervene long before students lose their way.