The transition from middle school to high school is a big step, with students facing new teachers, expectations, and challenges. School leaders of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) in Maryland recognized that many students were struggling in their first year of high school, putting them at risk of not graduating on time. To support more students in finishing ninth grade on time, the district uses an early warning system to identify students at risk of falling behind. School administrators and teachers use this information to guide their conversations around helping these students through a variety of interventions to ensure they stay on track.
How It Works
Early warning systems (EWS) provide key data measures to help school leaders, teachers, and parents keep their students on track to graduate on time. In order to create the EWS, the district used previous student data to predict which measures were the most important indicators of ninth-grade success. By looking at the data of previous ninth grade students, the district determined that grade point average, attendance, and standardized test scores are the most important indicators of whether students are at risk of not graduating on time. PGCPS created a dashboard for school leaders and administrators that shows how each student is doing on these indicators, producing reports that use a simple red, yellow, and green color code to communicate the risks each student faces. This allows school leaders and teachers to easily understand the data and make critical decisions to address students’ challenges.
Using the Data to Make Decisions
Schools in PGCPS each have collaborative teacher meetings, organizing ninth-grade teams—including curriculum instructors, assistant principals, and ninth-grade coordinators—tasked with reviewing the early warning data to thoughtfully create classroom strategies to address student retention. Although individual school reports throughout the district include the same measures and indicators, every school determines its own strategies of change and intervention. Some schools prioritize direct interventions, including increases in parent-teacher meetings and meetings with the individual student to help identify and address potential issues. Others focus on facilitating good communication among freshmen teachers, increasing peer mentoring initiatives, and ensuring classroom support for students. The reports are updated quarterly through the school year to show the student’s progress.
Beyond “On Track”
PGCPS recognized that interventions and improvements at the high school level are only one part of supporting students. The early warning data also provides a tool for increased communication and alignment between middle and high schools. The reports identifying at-risk students and their indicators are shared with middle school principals and school leaders to provide feedback on how their former students are performing and what changes could be made to better prepare students for ninth grade. Additionally, reports using EWS data demonstrate the need for increased resources at schools with high numbers of at-risk students. PGCPS recently began using this information as a vital component of their decision-making around fund and resource allocation.
Empowering teachers, school leaders, parents, and students with the information they need to make better decisions has begun to improve the academic success of ninth graders in PGCPS and will continue to keep students on the path to graduate on time.