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Originally published November 23, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Page modified November 23, 2012 at 11:22 PM

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Spokane schools using early-warning data system

The Spokane school district is using a data system to help identify early on students who might later be at risk of dropping out. That allows educators to offer supports appropriate to the individual child.

The Spokesman-Review

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A data system launched this fall in Spokane Public Schools puts each child's academic and behavioral information at educators' fingertips, helping educators address problems at an earlier stage.

"At the beginning of the year, you don't know these little people. Once they get into my class, I can sort the information about them," said Betsy Weigle, an Adams Elementary School fourth-grade teacher. "I love efficiency. I love being able to go to one place for a student's information."

The Early Warning System (EWS) was developed following an independent study of 7,000 district students from the classes of 2008 and 2010. The data showed that nearly half of students who dropped out could have been identified before high school, based on three areas: absences, discipline problems and poor academic performance, such as low math or reading assessment scores. The findings were consistent with national studies on dropouts.

When a teacher logs into EWS, a page linked to that teacher shows a list of students, the at-risk categories applying to each child, and a percentage ranking of the child's risk.

The percentage goes up if a student exhibits certain combinations of behaviors. Based on that information, a teacher can link to more detailed information and determine which supports are appropriate to help the child.

"There was one student in particular who was flagged at-risk in reading," Weigle said. "That clued me in to look at his scores. Turns out it wasn't so much a reading issue; it was writing."

The information available about the student showed every reading assessment the child had taken since starting in the district. Weigle was able to put supports in place right away to help bring the student up to grade level.

The EWS database is updated weekly, said Steven Gering, the district's chief academic officer. Gering helped design the program, which is unique to the school district.

"Every page has been set up with hot links to what has been done to improve a child's attendance or some other problems," Gering said.

Depending on the child's grade level, the local study revealed there are different risk factors at different grade levels.

For example, four unexcused absences for a third- through sixth-grader more than doubles the chances of that student dropping out; the same was true for eighth-graders.

The study also showed why educators cannot wait until students are in high school to help them, Gering said. Only 40 percent of dropouts showed their first at-risk behavior in high school. About 46 percent exhibited the behavior before ninth grade, and 14 percent didn't show any.

"This isn't saying a kid will drop out ... it's saying how at-risk a student is, and they need a lot of support," Gering said.

The new system also gives educators the chance to be aware of those red-flag behaviors before they reach a dangerous level.

The district sees EWS as a proactive rather than reactive approach: "To act on one absence is a different structure for schools," Gering said, and this is an opportunity to "get ahead of the game."

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