Education Opinion

How Chicago Is Supporting Educators in Using Early Warning Indicators

By Urban Education Contributor — August 02, 2018 3 min read

This post is by Eliza Moeller, Research Analyst at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium, @UChiConsortium) and Director of Research and Data Strategy for the Network for College Success (@NCSChicago)

Today’s post is the practitioner perspective on Monday’s post: What We Know and What We Need to Know About High School Graduation and College Readiness Indicator Systems

Educators increasingly use early warning indicators to identify students who need support and subsequently develop strategies to help them. In Chicago, the Network for College Success (NCS) at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration assists schools in using early warning indicators by providing data analytic capacity and outside facilitation.

As an alternative to the “buy a program” approach often used to address vexing problems in schools, the Network for College Success focuses on fostering the conditions for whole-school change, such as capacity building and and systems thinking. NCS does this through building sustained professional learning communities and providing executive coaching. Educators also benefit from de-siloing their work: NCS creates space for educators to come together across schools to review research, examine data, problem solve, and set next steps. We support educators who are committed to improving student outcomes but need the research-based tools, skills, and strategies to implement real and lasting change. We help schools use classroom- and school-level data to support staff in developing interventions, and then provide feedback to staff on the efficacy of their interventions.

Use Of Research Findings In Practice

As noted in the research post earlier this week, effective indicators need to be highly predictive, understandable, and useful. When used in practice, good early warning indicator systems do two important things: they focus educators on the right leverage points, and they gear those educators to work on incremental change towards big goals. These practices are at the center of how NCS works with school staff in Chicago.

Responding to the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium) research that identified 9th grade course performance as a critical early warning indicator of high school graduation and college readiness (see more research here, here, and here), NCS staff support schools to develop Freshman Success Teams focused on improving freshman grades. These teams are comprised of 9th grade teachers, counselors, administrators, and other educators who directly impact freshmen. Our coaches support team leaders in creating a culture of collective responsibility among team members for students’ successful transition into high school and our data strategists help team members use data to monitor freshman course performance, attendance, and behavior. Our goal is to help teams build their capacity to develop and test interventions to address students in need of support and refine strategies to better serve students.

The results in Chicago illustrate the kind of progress that is possible when indicators are highly predictive, useful, and are aligned with schools’ goals: in the last decade, improvements in the number of freshmen who are on-track to graduate have led to slow, steady, and impressive growth on every measure of educational attainment for Chicago’s students, with double-digit increases in freshman on-track, high school graduation, and college enrollment.

Future Work

We will continue to deepen supports with partner schools in Chicago, who must be ever-ready to solve the next problem of practice and prepare more and more students for life after high school. In addition, NCS is also looking beyond Chicago to share the most promising practices on freshman success. Last month, we hosted the third cohort of educators from across the country at the National Freshman Success Institute (NFSI). These dedicated educators come from all kinds of schools and all parts of the country, and are committed to doing the hard work of changing freshman year in order to increase high school graduation and college readiness rates for their students.

As our UChicago Consortium colleagues noted in the earlier post, the work of understanding and improving the use of indicators must happen across district, city, and state contexts. And it requires researchers and practitioners to learn from one another. The Network for College Success provides a bridge, translating research evidence, and training and guiding practitioners as they work to develop and use indicators to support all students.

Photo courtesy of Lloyd DeGrane

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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