Guest posted on February 1, 2013. 0 Comments

Early Warning Data Helping At-Risk Students in Massachusetts

Category: College and Career Readiness

This is a guest post by Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester, EdD, of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Dr. Chester has held positions in the School District of Philadelphia, Connecticut Department of Education, and Ohio Department of Education. He began his career as an elementary school teacher in Connecticut.

One year ago the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education took receivership of the Lawrence, Massachusetts, school district. Last spring, as a result of examining the transcripts of recent dropouts, we discovered a large number of dropouts who were within one credit of earning their high school diploma. We reached out to them, convinced several to enroll in summer school, and as a result approximately 20 would-be dropouts are now high school graduates. This is an example of using data to generate meaningful action. Imagine the opportunity cost to those students, their families, their community, and the state if we did not have the data to monitor progress and thus respond proactively.

Like many states, Massachusetts collects a wealth of data from school districts. Too often state departments of education do not provide valuable data back to educators so that they may improve practice and support student achievement. I know we can do a better job with offering educators tools that promote a culture of effective data-informed decision making.

To that end, Massachusetts recently launched the Early Warning Indicator System (EWIS) for grades 1–12, which will be included in Edwin, the state’s new teaching and learning system released in early 2013. Edwin will provide educators with numerous student-level and aggregate data reports—including EWIS-specific reports—as well as curriculum resources. We worked with the national organization American Institutes for Research (AIR) to develop the risk models for the EWIS. Indicators and calculations for the risk models were developed using our longitudinal data, which allowed us to test and validate the models.

The purpose of the Massachusetts EWIS is to provide timely information to districts on the likelihood their students will reach key academic goals. We learned from educators that they are interested in early indicator data across multiple grade levels and as early as possible. In response to those requests the Massachusetts EWIS predicts whether students in grades 1–12 are on track to meet one of four relevant academic goals throughout the academic trajectory:

  • achieving proficient or advanced on third-grade English language arts (ELA) Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) (grades 1–3)
  • achieving proficient or advanced on sixth-grade ELA and math MCAS (grades 4–6)
  • passing all ninth-grade courses (grades 7–9)
  • graduating from high school (grades 10–12)

Across the country early indicators are an increasingly important tool for educators to better design and target student interventions. The Massachusetts EWIS is a tool for educators to use in conjunction with other data to improve student supports. Schools can use the information to support students who are at risk of not meeting an expected academic goal with schoolwide strategies and targeted interventions. Districts and schools can also use EWIS data to examine aggregate patterns over time to address systemic issues.

Starting with this academic year and going forward, Massachusetts educators will receive EWIS data for students across grade levels in a district. We will provide these data at the beginning of each school year, based on data from the previous school year. All students will be assigned a risk level—low, moderate, or high—indicating their current likelihood of not reaching the upcoming academic goal.

Massachusetts educators have a lot to be proud of. Yet our work continues to close persistent proficiency gaps and to increase the percentage of graduates enrolling in higher education without the need for remedial courses. Our students need us to take bold steps to make every school an excellent one and prepare them for success after high school. I believe that thoughtful use of early indicator data will provide another resource to help reach this objective.

More information about the Massachusetts EWIS and Edwin is available at

Throughout 2013 DQC will continue to highlight the development and implementation of the Massachusetts Early Warning System (EWIS).

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