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Looking for Leading Indicators

April 26, 2012

The term “leading indicators” originated as an economic theory that allowed economists to predict “lagging indicators.”   For example, they learned that examining factory orders (leading) could help predict the unemployment rate (lagging) for the next month.  This concept has the potential to be very useful in the field of education.

Leading indicators have three general traits:

  • Timely & Actionable – It is reported in enough time to alter the course of action.
  • Powerful – It provides the opportunity to track progress or lack of progress.
  • Benchmarked – Levels of improvement can be determined by the users.

By monitoring certain levels of academic performance at one level, we may be able to predict future performance.  Then, by focusing our efforts on these key leading indicator areas we can have a significant impact on key lagging indicators like ACT scores, high school graduation, college completion, etc.  For example, we have invested time and energy in early reading proficiency as it is a leading indicator for high school completion.  We are looking at clear benchmarks for reading proficiency starting in kindergarten and providing clear interventions to help students achieve them.  The sense of urgency is driven not only by the desire to help the students hit the goal, but also by the impact we know it will have on the important lagging indicators years later.

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