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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Early Warning Systems - Course Performance

June 2017


What does the research say about evidence-based practices or interventions that improve course performance?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on evidence-based practices or interventions that improve course performance, an early warning systems indicator. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to course grades at the secondary level. For details on the databases and sources, keywords and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Cleary, T. J., Platten, P., & Nelson, A. (2008). Effectiveness of the self-regulation empowerment program with urban high school students. Journal of Advanced Academics, 20(1), 70–107.Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "Impacting the academic performance of high school students in core academic content areas is important because of the high-stakes nature of secondary school course grades relative to their vocational and post-secondary pursuits. Getting students to become more active, strategic participants in their learning by teaching them empirically supported learning strategies as well as specific forethought and reflective thinking skills is an important pathway to academic success. The importance of self-regulation processes also has been established in recent survey research with teachers and school psychologists showing that students who are referred for academic problems often have self-regulatory skill and motivation deficits. Intervention programs like the Self-Regulation Empowerment Program (SREP) can be conceptualized and implemented within the context of school-based service delivery frameworks. Tier I interventions typically occur at a classroom level and thus are designed to provide all students with the potential benefits of an intervention. With regards to classroom-wide self-regulation interventions, there are many empirically supported techniques that teachers can readily infuse into the daily routine of a school day, such as requiring all students to set performance goals, engage in progress monitoring, and utilize self-reflective processes. Students who do not respond (i.e., continue to exhibit poor test performance) to this general level of intervention support would be eligible to receive more intensive, Tier II pull-out programs, such as SREP."

Faria, A. M., Sorensen, N., Heppen, J., Bowdon, J., Taylor, S., Eisner, R., & Foster, S. (2017). Getting students on track for graduation: Impacts of the Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System after one year (REL 2017-272). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "Although high school graduation rates are rising-the national rate was 82 percent during the 2013/14 school year (U.S. Department of Education, 2015) - dropping out remains a persistent problem in the Midwest and nationally. Many schools now use early warning systems to identify students who are at risk of not graduating, with the goal of intervening early to help students get back on track for on-time graduation. Although research has guided decisions about the types of data and indicators used to flag students as being at risk, little is known about the impact of early warning systems on students and schools—and in particular, whether these systems do help get students back on track. This study, designed in collaboration with the REL Midwest Dropout Prevention Research Alliance, examined the impact and implementation of one early warning system-the Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System (EWIMS) - on student and school outcomes... The study found that EWIMS reduced the percentage of students with risk indicators related to chronic absence and course failure but not related to low GPAs or suspension."

Hickman, G. P., & Wright, D. (2011). Academic and school behavioral variables as predictors of high school graduation among at-risk adolescents enrolled in a youth-based mentoring program. Journal of At-Risk Issues, 16(1), 25-33. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "Using official school data, this study examined a sample of 447 at-risk students enrolled over a 10-year period in a youth-based mentoring program. The primary objective of the program was to ensure high school graduation. Participants were identified by indices of academic and school behaviors that rendered them less likely to graduate from high school. This study used logistic regression to examine the extent to which academic (i.e., GPA, grade retention, and math and reading proficiency scores) and behavioral (i.e., expulsions) variables, as well as age at entry of program, and duration in the program predicted high school graduation. Results indicated that GPA and participants' age at time of enrollment in the program were significant predictors of graduating high school. Implications are drawn for designers of diversion, intervention, and mentoring programs."

Johnson, K. C., & Lampley, J. H. (2010). Mentoring at-risk middle school students. SRATE Journal, 19(2), 64-69. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "This study examined a mentoring program entitled: LISTEN (Linking Individual Students To Educational Needs). The LISTEN mentoring program was a district-sponsored, school-based program in which at-risk, middle school students were identified by the school system and mentors were recruited specifically to assist these students with school performance or related issues. Archival data from the 2003-04 and 2004-05 academic years were collected to determine the possible effects of the LISTEN mentoring program on at-risk students in grades six through eight. Specifically, the study investigated the relationship of a mentoring program with at-risk students' GPAs, discipline referrals, and attendance records. A statistically significant difference was found for GPAs, discipline referrals, and attendance rates between those measured pre-intervention and those measured post-intervention."

Kraft, M. A., & Rogers, T. (2014). Teacher-to-parent communication: Experimental evidence from a low-cost communication policy. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "A wide body of literature documents the important role that parents play in supporting children's academic success in school (Houtenville & Conway, 2008; Barnard, 2004; Fan & Chen, 2001). Drawing on this literature, national taskforces and federal legislation consistently identify increased parental involvement as a central goal of educational reform initiatives (e.g. No Child Left Behind, Title I, Part A, Section 1118). Schools attempt to promote greater parental engagement though a variety of efforts centered on teacher-parent communication (Epstein, 2008). Cheung and Pomerantz (2012) found that children whose parents were more likely to be involved with their learning were more likely to be motivated to meet their parents' academic expectations, and received higher grades. Recent experimental research has documented how two-way teacher-parent communication can lead to greater parental involvement, improved student engagement and academic achievement (Authors, 2013; Bergman, 2012). This study examines the effect of delivering to parents weekly messages written by teachers about each child's performance in school, and the authors explore how these effects differ across different message types. This is accomplished by conducting a field experiment during a summer credit recovery program in a large urban school district. Researchers randomly assigned participating students and their parents to one of three experimental conditions. Some parents received information throughout the summer program about what their students were doing well and should continue doing; others received information about what their students needed to improve upon, while a third group received no information. The research sought to answer two questions: (1) What is the effect of teacher-to-parent communication on the probability a student earns course credit in a credit recovery program; and 2) Are positive or needs-improvement messages more effective at increasing a student's likelihood of earning course credit? This research contributes to a growing body of evidence on the beneficial impact that teachers providing parents with individualized messages and information about their children's schoolwork can have on student achievement and advancement in school. This study also points to the importance of further examining how teachers and schools can improve the content and quality of their communication with parents."

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2015, May). Dropout Prevention intervention report: Check & Connect. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "'Check & Connect' aims to help students stay in school by continually monitoring school performance and providing individualized attention through mentoring, case management, and other supports. In 2006, the WWC published a systematic review of all the studies that examined the impact of ‘Check & Connect' on high school students with learning, behavioral, or emotional disabilities who are at risk of dropping out. The WWC recently updated this report to include more recent publications. Based on the most up-to-date evidence, the WWC found that 'Check & Connect' has positive effects on staying in school, potentially positive effects on progressing in school, and no discernible effects on completing school for high school students with learning, behavioral, or emotional disabilities."

Zeller, P. J., Carpenter, S., Lacefield, W. E., & Applegate, E. B. (20130. Graduation coaching in a rural district school. International Journal for Leadership in Learning, 1(1). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "The GEAR UP graduation coach intervention developed by the GEAR UP Learning Centers at Western Michigan University (WMU) addresses the issue of academic failure of at-risk students in high school. This personalized early intervention strategy begins by assessing students' unique circumstances, academic histories, and strengths and weaknesses in 9th grade. Coach and student work together, networking with parents and teachers, to establish a plan that will bolster academic achievement. Intensive graduation coaching identifies internal and external resources to ensure the student's success and closely monitors the student's progress. This intervention has been implemented successfully in two urban school settings and results indicated substantial benefits. This study examines a replication of this model in a rural school setting for one year with an incoming 9th grade class. The process involved several phases: program preparation and staff and student selection; implementing the coaching intervention and monitoring progress for informed, data-driven decision-making; and final summative evaluation. Two general questions were of particular research interest. Could students be identified proactively who are likely to benefit from this program? Did students selected as part of the coaching caseload improve their grades? A longitudinal, retrospective baseline study provided matched comparison groups for examining the effects of the intervention treatment. Results show that these graduation coached at-risk students as a group performed academically in core courses almost an entire letter grade better than would have anticipated based on comparative student results from baseline studies. Well over 50% of the treatment students, all of whom were predicted to fail, actually succeeded well enough to be prepared to progress to the next grade level. In this instance, graduation coaching appears to have significant potential in rural as well as urban school to promote student retention, success, and perseverance to graduation."

Additional Organizations to Consult

Early Warning Systems Pathway –

From the website: "AIR focuses on ensuring that an early warning system (EWS) is used to take action. We guide leaders and educators through a research-based process of identifying at-risk students, targeting supports, and monitoring students to improve graduation outcomes. Our knowledge of EWS, including the development of tools and resources to support implementation, and our extensive experience in providing EWS design, technical assistance, and training to stakeholders makes AIR an ideal partner in supporting at-risk students."

High School Transcript Studies –

From the website: "High school transcript studies have been conducted by NCES as part of the Longitudinal Studies Program and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) High School Transcript Studies (HSTS) program since 1982. Each transcript study is associated with a major NCES data collection…NCES high school transcript studies collect information that is contained on the student high school record-i.e., courses taken while attending secondary school; information on credits earned; year and term a specific course was taken; and, final grades... This information can be used to examine course-taking patterns of students and to predict future education outcomes."

What Works Clearinghouse –

From the website: "The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education. Our goal is to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question 'What works in education?'"


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • practices OR interventions AND course performance - high school students

  • practices OR interventions AND GPA

  • practices OR interventions AND grade point average - high schools

  • early warning system indicator AND intervention AND grade point average

  • practices OR interventions AND course grade - high school

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.