Facebook Twitter
Booker T. Washington High School seniors toss their graduation caps into the air  at the conclusion of their 2016 graduation ceremony at the Orpheum Theatre.

Booker T. Washington High School seniors toss their graduation caps into the air at the conclusion of their 2016 graduation ceremony at the Orpheum Theatre.

Brad Vest/The Commercial Appeal

New ‘early warning’ system aims to help Memphis high schools identify potential dropouts

In a sea of data on hundreds of students about attendance, test scores, grades and behavior, teachers and administrators can be challenged to identify a student early on who may not graduate.

They used to crunch those numbers by hand, taking time from other responsibilities and leaving gaps in their understanding of where students stand.

But this coming school year, Shelby County Schools hopes to streamline the process by introducing Early Warning System software through tech company Tableau. The aim is to help high school educators make sense of all of the information they gather about their students.

Whitehaven High School principal Vincent Hunter was among district educators to test the software last school year, and liked what he saw.

“Our administration team and our data team used to analyze data like that every four and a half weeks,” he said. “… But now we’re at a point where we can log in and get that info right away.”

The system is part of a growing number of efforts nationally to sort student data and make it easier for teachers and administrators to make data-driven decisions to help students succeed in the classroom. Long-term evidence that the systems are working are not yet available, but leaders with Shelby County Schools are hopeful after hearing positive feedback from principals like Hunter.

Shelby County Schools will roll out the system this fall to all high schools as part of its Destination 2025 initiative, which calls for the district to boost its graduation rate by 15 points, to 90 percent, over the next decade. Principals are scheduled to be trained on the new platform this month

Under the new system, vulnerable students will be identified based on six common factors that data miners found among dropouts and delayed graduates since 2010: low attendance, multiple suspensions, the number of courses they are failing, grade point average, the number of missed course credits, and gaps in enrollment.

The centralized data system identifies potential dropouts when they reach a threshold on one or more of the triggers and alerts the school administration immediately.

Hunter said he anticipates the system will “cut down on a lot of man hours” and give a clearer overview of a student’s progress and needs in literacy, math, attendance and class credits. The data will steer “administrators and especially counselors on where to focus on” for a particular student.

Information that’s easier to access is more likely to get used, said Randall McPherson, the district’s manager of student behavior and leadership.

“The information has always been there. But we’re putting it in a more readable format,” McPherson said. “It helps schools identify where the problems are, giving our students the best opportunity to be successful.”

The instant data also generates a real-time report for parents and teachers to discuss.

“When you can show it to them in black and white not only have you established a line of credibility with the parent, the parent truly believes you are a partner in education with them,” Hunter said. “It definitely grabs their attention and creates a sense of urgency for what’s most important, which is academic progress and academic progress on time.”