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How Identifying At-Risk Students Leads to Success

Watch for warning signs and intervene early.

Posted by Ann Snook on February 25th, 2020

Every student deserves to feel that school is a safe place where they fit in and are valued for who they are. Unfortunately, some fall behind when their academic and emotional needs aren’t met. This can lead to higher drop-out rates as well as negatively affect students for the rest of their lives.

Knowing how to identify at-risk students can help put them, and your school, on a path to success. Rather than intervening with a disciplinary focus, however, use the following ideas to get these students back on track.


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How to Identify At-Risk Students


Identifying at-risk students isn’t always easy. Watch out for these warning signs that a student is facing academic or personal challenges (or both):

  • Frequent tardiness or absences
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Low grades at the beginning of the semester (may need motivation or help with study skills)
  • Declining grades (may be dealing with personal issues outside the classroom)



Intervention Methods for Success


Learning Supports/The Enabling Component


Students may face not only academic hurdles, but issues outside the classroom as well (e.g. absent or overworked parents, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, etc.). One support model called “the enabling component” or “learning supports” acknowledges this and addresses students’ total needs.

This model aims to bring support to the student, rather than making them seek it out. Action steps include:

  • Bring support staff into classrooms to help students rather than pulling them out, which disrupts learning and peer relationships
  • Offering extra support to students experiencing a transition (e.g. moving to a new school, moving up a school level, parents’ divorce, new sibling)
  • Involving parents in school activities through field trips, parent/teacher conferences and class projects
  • Connecting students with community resources (e.g. faith-based organizations, businesses, cultural institutions, universities, public and private organizations) and external financial and mental health services


Learning supports focuses less on punishment for bad behavior and more on getting to the root of it. Former President of the National Association of School Psychologists Kathleen M. Minke, PhD. explains that schools should shouldn’t “think about kids’ social and emotional needs as something you do after you address their academic achievement.” Instead, these needs should be addressed “as part of their whole school experience” to better both students’ lives and the school’s overall success.


Personalized Support


One support method won’t fit every student’s needs. “Recognizing the importance of personalized support is critical, given differences in students’ preferences and interests, as well as differences in academic readiness,” says Laura Perna, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Look at the total student when designing an intervention approach. Do they need tutoring or to retake a class to improve their grades? Should you offer a class period dedicated to academic and personal support needs? Can you integrate individualized learning paths in classes so that at-risk students don’t fall behind?

Most importantly, monitor students constantly. A student that was at-risk last year may have improved and not require as much support this year. Or, a student who has never exhibited warning signs of being at-risk may suddenly face a challenge and need immediate support.


RELATED: 4 Benefits of Student Conduct Investigation Software


Risk Assessment Team


Create a risk assessment team of teachers, support workers and administrators. This team should meet weekly to discuss complaints and concerns about at-risk students in the school.

Because team members work in different roles, they can offer diverse perspectives and input about each student’s challenges, as well as how to best address them. After the team comes up with individualized intervention plans, they should share it with other teachers and staff to ensure a cohesive approach to helping the students.


Adult Mentor


At-risk students sometimes feel that the adults at their school just want to discipline them. Mentorship programs help foster positive interactions with authority figures and show students that a grown-up cares about them.

One way to form this relationship between student and adult is the check-in/check-out method. After they are paired up, the mentor and mentee should meet at least twice per day, once in the morning (check-in) and once at the end of the day (check-out).

During the check-in meeting, the pair should discuss how the student will work toward their academic and personal goals or address their challenges that day. At the check-out meeting, they can review the successes and areas of improvement from the day and make plans for tomorrow.

Educator Melanie Forstall explains that this type of program gives at-risk students “accountability and offers much-needed structure,” which leads them to “internalize successes, leading to sustainability and long-term success.”


RELATED: Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): The Key to Successful Schools

Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

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