Early warning systems are based on a simple idea: The sooner you can identify students who are at risk of dropping out, the sooner you can get them the additional support they need, and the more likely they are to stay on track to graduate. What gets complicated is how to identify those students. Schools and districts are looking for the most reliable and accurate indicators—those factors and characteristics that are most likely to predict the risk of dropping out.
A new study, conducted by REL Northwest and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, contributes to this effort. Examining data from four Oregon school districts, the study looks at which factors in grades 8 and 9 show the highest correlation with subsequent graduation outcomes.
The study’s main findings corroborate previous research, which has found attendance rates and course performance to be strongly linked to graduation outcomes. In this study, an attendance rate below 80 percent and a grade point average below 2.0 were the most significant predictors of subsequently falling off track to graduate. This was true for both eighth- and ninth-grade students. While the study also examines the influence of demographic, behavioral, and other academic factors, only gender and English learner status showed a significant correlation to the risk of dropping out.
“Identifying accurate indicators of risk is an essential step in addressing the dropout problem,” says Art Burke, the study author. “The findings of this study can help districts make decisions about what data they should be gathering and how those data can be used to target their support for the students who need it most.” On a national level, the study contributes to the growing research base that is giving educators a foundation for making informed decisions about how to identify at-risk students.
The study was requested by the Oregon Leadership Network Research Alliance, a research-practice partnership with members who are committed to ensuring equitable education opportunities and outcomes for each and every student.