SHERIDAN — Sheridan County School District 2 announced a plan to improve Sheridan High School’s declining on-time graduation rates at a board meeting Feb. 3 — a plan largely based on a new Infinite Campus product that organizes student information into four key factors which influence the likelihood of graduating.

Ryan Schasteen, director of information technology for SCSD2, said the new Early Warning System will provide a more detailed picture of what factors influence graduation, beginning in sixth grade when a student’s first Graduation Related Analytic Data score is developed.

The national student information platform Infinite Campus records student data, removes identifying information and creates profiles of students who did or didn’t graduate. Counselors can then compare those standardized profiles to their own students to produce a GRAD score. The score, measured between 50 and 150, indicates the likelihood of matriculating to the next grade level or graduating, Schasteen said.

The profile is built using attendance records including tardiness and reasons for absence; behavior including reported incidents, whether a student was regularly an offender or victim, frequency of behavioral incidents and the nature of a behavior problem; curriculum, i.e. how well a student is performing in the classroom; and a stability score which takes into account the number of addresses a student has held, number of school enrollments, engagement with their own education and family engagement through the parent portal.

The program’s predictive analytics produces a score that sorts students from high to low risk. Schasteen said he expects the high-risk students to be people counselors are already familiar with, but the students in the middle might be new to counselors. The goal with the warning system is to bring those students who need assistance out of the shadows, he said.

“Our goal in adopting this — No. 1 is to get a different way of looking at students that seems to take into account a lot of relevant data,” Schasteen said. “No. 2, it helps remove that burden from the counselors of keeping spreadsheets up.”

Education — including a high school diploma — is one of the top five social determinants of health in 2020, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Dropping out of high school can negatively impact future health by limiting employment options, wages and potentially leading to poverty. High school graduation is influenced by social, familial and institutional conditions like high-quality teachers, according to the ODPHP.

Some might be skeptical of relying on predictive analytics, but Schasteen said schools aren’t simply handing responsibility for a student’s future over to a computer. The information the early warning system categorizes and weighs may simply shed light on what counselors haven’t noticed before, he said. The program is updated nightly and identifies critical opportunities for positive change in a student’s life, he said.

Counselors already care deeply about their students and monitor similar factors through their own tracking methods. But it wasn’t organized in a central location and counselors spent considerable administrative time organizing that data to determine which students meet the at-risk threshold, he said. SHS counselors trained on the new system Feb. 4 and the junior high is next.

“I think it’ll be a process of learning to trust the predictive analytics tool — hopefully trust it — to give data that is meaningful and actionable for students,” Schasteen said.

SHS Counselors Coty Nikont and Alyssa Yada said they are optimistic the program will make their jobs easier and allow for more face-to-face time with students.

Nikont said he sees the early warning system as an easily-accessible, central location for information he regularly collects anyway. It provides a better idea of how a student is performing academically, but “it doesn’t replace that personal interaction,” Nikont said.

Nikont and Yada said a student with a high potential for graduation could still be at risk, and the system might fail to reflect all the factors influencing a student with low potential, or the protective factors that could help them. Neither Yada nor Nikont found many surprises with who the system identified as at-risk students.

Schasteen said he hopes counselors can use information from the early warning system to work with students and teachers to determine appropriate interventions, rather than “sitting in their office maintaining spreadsheets,” he said.

Infinite Campus has been the established student information system at SHS for more than 10 years. Schasteen said he is confident Infinite Campus has helped prepare educators for inputting quality data reliably and consistently, including taking daily attendance, tracking behavior and maintaining transcript information.

“We’re just letting the computer do the hard calculation part that helps us figure out — out of the nearly 1,000 students at the high school — who are the ones that really need the help of the school team in order to get to that end goal of graduating,” Schasteen said. “Then they get to spend their time working with that student. That’s what’s exciting.”

Developing the system has required some trial and error on a national scale before officially rolling out the program, Schasteen said. Infinite Campus found that starting a GRAD score before sixth grade didn’t produce reliable results, for example. The program will be fine-tuned over years of use, comparing predictive data to true results.

Counselors are not expected to default to the system — it informs the work counselors do without directing their actions. Overall, the program will hopefully prompt counselors to get to know their students better if they don’t already, Schasteen said. It may also reduce the get-to-know-you time for new ninth-graders because they will be coming into high school with a GRAD score counselors can work from.

“It all drives relationships,” Schasteen said.

Some personal traits have been shown to influence graduation rates that the early warning system does not track, like factors connected to violence and safety issues at school including sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and ethnicity.

The average LGBTQ high school student hears 26 anti-LGBTQ slurs per day, according to 2013 data from the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network. One quarter of LGBTQ students have experienced physical assault because of their sexual orientation and more than one quarter drop out of school as a result of harassment.

Being the subject of physical or verbal abuse and low self esteem is linked to higher drop-out rates. The ODPHP claims high school graduation is critical to improving population health, financial security and reducing premature death.

American Indian/Alaska Native youth have the highest dropout rate of all ethnic groups, next to Hispanic youth, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2009, students from families in the lowest 20% of incomes were five times more likely to drop out of high school than the top 20%, according to the American Psychological Association.

Yada said the stability score addresses some factors that correlate with behavior and mental health. Nikont said counselors closely monitor mental health but any recorded information about a student’s mental health or other private information is stored in a confidential location on Infinite Campus.

While Nikont said he would like to see the system expand so more teachers and staff can benefit from it, confidential information should remain so. Nikont said the school hasn’t decided if and how the program will be used to communicate about students with parents but that decision will likely fall to the district.

Tools like the early warning system will likely assist counselors in their efforts to support students throughout their academic journey, though most school officials believe they will not replace the value of relationships and human compassion in academic success.