WSU leading implementation of statewide online truancy prevention program

WSU Tri-Cities professor serves on research team working on project

Washington State University is leading the online implementation of a program aimed at reducing school truancy that could positively affect schools across the state — and possibly the nation.

The Washington Assessment of the Risks and Needs of Students, or WARNS, program uses data-driven procedures to track and improve interventions with students. The Becca Bill, which requires children ages 8-17 to attend a public, private or home-based school, indicates that unexcused absences might be an early warning sign for unaddressed problems with school failure and dropout rates.

Paul Strand, WSU Tri-Cities professor of psychology; Nick Lovrich, WSU Regents professor emeritus; Brian French, professor and director of WSU’s Learning and Performance Research Center and Psychometric Laboratory; and Bruce Austin, research associate in educational psychology and the LPRC, have worked since 2014 to evaluate and refine the WARNS program.

The program was developed in 2008 to assess students who have been linked to truancy, delinquency and/or dropping out of school, based on six factors: aggression-defiance; depression-anxiety; substance abuse; peer deviance; family environment; and school engagement.

Within the program, schools can use the data to develop and implement a plan for at-risk students through school community truancy boards to help prevent and correct student behavior.

WSU’s recent evaluation of the program supports using the WARNS as a global screening assessment of risks and needs, citing its reliability and validity. The evaluation was published by SAGE Journals this spring.

“A critical component to the use of scores for decisions about youth is building this line of evidence,” French said.

WSU’s Learning and Performance Research Center houses the online implementation of the assessment, which is offered to individual high schools and middle schools for $275 per year, plus a $1 charge for each student assessed.

Districts also can sign up for a subscription for $500 for middle school and high school WARNS, plus a $1 charge for each student assessed.

The costs of the program are to ensure the technical integrity and continued development of the assessments.

The WSU researchers also are developing programs for elementary schools, because signs of delinquency are evident by fifth-grade and sometimes even earlier, Strand said.

About 80 schools across the state are using the platform, in addition to a school district in Georgia. Schools in California, Ohio and Connecticut also have expressed interest.

“Schools in Spokane County that were using it, for example, experienced increased graduation rates,” Strand said. “Now, we’re working with a group that is part of WSU’s Learning and Performance Research Center to put the whole program into an online platform, with the help of WSU’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center. Students can take the assessment and get immediate feedback. We’re also making it very affordable so schools have the means to access this resource.”

The team’s research was supported by $150,000 and $98,000 grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a $21,400 grant from the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, a $25,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Priority Spokane and a high-risk, high-reward grant from the WSU College of Education.

For more information on the assessment, visit warns.wsu.edu.

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