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Early Warning Systems in Early Education

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December 6th, 2018

In previous posts, I’ve began with the assertion that in many cases, the likelihood that a student would graduate from high school could be predicted as early as kindergarten.

Because early warning systems were initially designed to improve high school dropout rates, most of the research has centered around students in eighth grade and up. Another important branch of EWS research has focused on getting high school students ready for college.

All that work at the high school level is admirable, but younger students shouldn’t be ignored. Why not start as early as possible to use early warning indicators (EWI) to support our students?

According to On Track for Success, proven predictive indicators known as the ABCs—attendance, behavior, and course performance—are just as powerful in the early grades. In the course performance category, for example, the inability to read at grade level by the end of third grade and failure in English or math in sixth grade or later are thresholds that should alert educators that extra supports are needed.

The report cites several examples of studies that show the importance of monitoring EWIs in younger students, including:

  • A longitudinal study of more than twenty thousand K-5 students from 900 schools across the country, which found a strong link between early absenteeism and later struggles in school.
  • A study of San Diego fourth graders, which revealed a strong correlation between GPA and classroom behavior and later success on the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).
  • Another longitudinal study of nearly 4,000 students, which found that those who could not read proficiently by third grade were four times more likely to leave school without graduating than proficient readers. (Note that this indicator is not predictive on its own; some students who read still drop out.)
  • Longitudinal studies by the Baltimore Educational Research Consortium (BERC), which confirmed earlier findings that large percentages of future dropouts could be identified as early as sixth grade.

If districts are serious about equity, they should implement an EWS as early in a student’s career as possible. The data is available, and so are the platforms for collecting, storing, and visualizing data to create effective supports for at-risk students.


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.

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