A Gotham Schools article this week profiled a school, MS 244 in the Bronx, whose leaders use attendance, behavior and academic data to identify children who need extra support. That keen attention to the numbers to identify children who might need extra help, followed by personalized responses by caring adults to address specific needs, is how school/community teams can make sure kids don’t fall through the cracks. And given the huge slide of many kids in middle school, and in particular boys of color, middle school is a particularly important place to use this kind of data-driven process.
What MS 244 does is similar to what TASC has been doing with Grad Tracker (you can get a glimpse of Grad Tracker below and read more about it here). We combine academic, behavior and attendance data to develop a profile of whether each student is on track to graduate, almost on track, or not on track. Others have developed similar systems to support schools (see New Visions for Public Schools, FHI 360).
Some people feel like reducing a child’s experience to a collection of scores is depersonalizing or cold, and frankly it is unless you couple the review of the numbers with real and genuine support. But research has helped us identify particular warning signs, and data teams should allow these signs to unmask problems that are otherwise hidden or may even seem counterintuitive.
For example, a child who’s performing adequately but whose attendance is sliding? Let’s check on whether everything is OK at home, and whether she needs a class that really motivates her to come to school regularly. A child with a poor math score but otherwise OK? Let’s make sure he’s in a fun, engaging math activity in addition to his math class every day.
As Johns Hopkins researcher Robert Balfanz was quoted as saying in the article, “It’s one thing to flag kids for attendance and behavior issues … but now we have to actually do something about it.”