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Using Data to Keep All Students On-Track for Graduation: Team Playbook

Using Data to Keep All Students On-Track for Graduation: Team Playbook

How can educators organize middle and high schools so they provide the supports students need to keep them in school and on-track for secondary, post-secondary, and future success?  Or more directly, how do we organize our schools so that students stay in school, behave appropriately, try hard, and succeed in their courses?


A central lesson from secondary school reform efforts to date is that structural reforms such as small learning communities, interdisciplinary teams, and flexible scheduling create necessary but insufficient conditions for responding to the needs of all students.  Realizing the potential of these reforms requires they be activated by groups of adults with the will, skill, and time to translate these opportunity structures into personalized, responsive, and effective learning experiences for students.  In the words of one school reform leader, “small schools are the launch pad, not the rocket ship.”  As the secondary school reform movement matures, there is growing understanding that it is now time to build the rocket ship.

This guide offers a research based framework for and trends from schools beginning to build an essential part of the rocket ship — an early warning and collaborative response system.  This guide shares a variety of samples from schools in Philadelphia, San Antonio, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and how they have begun to use these systems to more effectively support their students.  A more in depth study on five Diplomas Now schools is detailed in the new report Learning What it Takes: How Schools are using Early Warning Indicator Data and Collaborative Response Teams to Keep All Students On Track, where we examine the implementation of early warning systems, documenting school-based challenges and barriers and steps taken toward overcoming them.

Results and the Lessons

The schools that have begun creating early warning systems and intervention response systems have taken the research on early warning indicators and the predictive value that they hold in identifying at-risk students and combined it with a variety of intervention plans to help them address the needs of students.  A growing consensus has begun to solidify around the indicators that tell us which student behaviors will push them off the path to graduation if left unattended.  The challenge for many schools is how to link this data to a response system that provides timely and appropriate interventions.  This task is increasingly challenging for schools that have a large number of students with one or more risk factors and students facing severe underlying challenges that are often seen by in school behaviors (ie poverty).

The systems that schools are creating and using to address these indicators vary based on the needs of students and the resources available at their schools.  There are trends that lead towards successful coordination of these systems and ultimately the more efficient and timely support of student needs.  These key items of the early warning and tiered response systems that will be discussed throughout this guide are:

  • Provision of regularly updated warning indicator data (from routinely collected student data) on each student to teachers, support staff, and administrators;
  • Regular monitoring of trends in student level data
  •  Regularly scheduled meetings of school personnel teams to discuss students with warning indicators, plan interventions, and follow up on implemented interventions (making changes as indicated);
  • Organization of a “second team of adults” to assist in delivery of interventions for students showing warning indicators.  This can be additional school staff or outside agency staff who provide additional interventions for students in need and are coordinating closely with school staff.

This guide describes the research behind the development of early warning and intervention systems as well as observations and tools that may be helpful to teams undertaking this work.  The guide is organized into five chapters with examples and background for each section.

Download the Team Playbook

Download a complete copy of the Team Playbook, available here in PDF.


This playbook was developed with support by grant No. R305A080211 from the Institute of Education Sciences. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the Institute of Education Sciences, nor do references to trade names, commercial products, services, and organizations imply endorsement by the Institute of Education Sciences.

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