Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

CARAS: A School-Based, Case Management System for At-Risk Students

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

CARAS: A School-Based, Case Management System for At-Risk Students

Article excerpt

Technological applications in education often fail to keep pace with the changing demands of the student body. Regardless of the direct applications of computers in instruction, an increasing number of students are recognized as being at risk of failing school. Indeed, a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that 12.5% of persons ages 16 through 24 are high school dropouts.1 While many of the individuals cited in this report are younger students at risk for strictly academic reasons, many more are at risk because of family-related problems.

Seeking different approaches to address both school- and family-related factors, educators have begun to turn to integrated service options, involving professionals in many disciplines. As more of these cross-disciplinary efforts are made with both students and their families, more effective methods of managing cases and coordinating school-based service delivery have become increasingly necessary.

Recognizing this need, the Center for the Study and Teaching of At-Risk Students (C-STARS) at the University of Washington, in conjunction with the Washington State Migrant Council, developed a software application that allows users to efficiently manage the cases of students at risk of dropping out of school. Known as the Computer-Assisted Risk Accountability System (CARAS), this software is being pilot-tested in several districts across the state of Washington.

The current version of the software aims to provide school-based case managers and their teams with more timely and accurate information on at-risk students and their families, as well as aid in evaluation and reporting. CARAS is also designed to help school district personnel get the most out of their available resources. What is unique about CARAS is that it is not simply a computer program, but a case management process, entailing all aspects of a case management program, from school- and districtwide screening for at-risk students to case closure.

* Why Computer Assisted?

Most computer programs to assist at-risk students were developed for classroom use by either students or teachers, on the assumption that this is how students could be helped the most. The software was designed to increase students' reading or math levels, or other comparable skills, in an effort to help them "keep up" with peers. Such programs are valuable tools, however they typically focus solely on academic aspects of the at-risk problem.

Other attempts to harness computing power to aid at-risk students involve adapting human-services software, originally used for billing and other client data-management purposes. We term these "macro" systems because they are usually designed to handle large numbers of students (often in the thousands) and are made principally for data reduction or aggregation, rather than assisting with decisions regarding the service needs of individuals (a "micro" system).

Large systems often lack the flexibility and/or elements needed by human service workers in their day-to-day case management activities. Such activities include service planning, data and information storage (with easy retrieval), and instant reporting capabilities (often needed for team meetings and staffings). These are activities for which CARAS is ideally suited.

With the growing interest in school-based case management for at-risk students, case managers need better assistance in their efforts. While the above-mentioned computer systems are good at either helping each student in classroom instruction or managing large programs, one's focus is too narrow and the other too broad to take into account all of the influences responsible for a particular student being at risk. Influences include substance abuse, poor living conditions, parental unemployment, and/or homelessness and gang involvement.

Specifically, much of the current software does not provide a means of developing service plans for students and their families, nor does it generate case reports and/or progress updates. …

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