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Students At-risk

Students At-risk

15 May, 2016

At-risk: This term is often used to describe students or groups of students who are considered to have a higher possibility of failing academically or dropping out of school. It can also be applied to students who face situations that could jeopardize their ability to complete school, such as homelessness, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, serious health issues, domestic violence, transiency (as in the case of migrant-worker families), or other conditions, or it may refer to learning disabilities, low test scores, disciplinary problems, grade retention, or other learning-related factors that could adversely affect the educational performance and attainment of some students.

Characteristics of Students At-risk:

  1. Physical and learning disabilities
  2. Prolonged or persistent health issues
  3. Habitual absence, incarceration history, or adjudicated delinquency
  4. Family welfare or marital status
  5. Parental educational attainment, income levels, employment status, or immigration status
  6. Households in which the primary language spoken is not English

In most cases, “risk factors” are circumstantial rather than innate except for certain characteristics such as learning disabilities, a student’s perceived risk status is rarely related to his or her ability to learn or succeed academically, and largely or entirely related to a student’s life circumstances. For example, attending a low-performing school could be considered a risk factor. If a school is insufficiently funded and cannot provide vital services, or if its teaching quality and performance record are poor, the school could conceivably contribute to higher rates of student absenteeism, course failures, and drop outs.

Generally, the behaviors and characteristics associated with being an “at-risk student” are, in most cases, based on research and observable patterns in student demographics and school performance. Numerous academic studies have revealed relationships between certain risk factors and a student’s likelihood of succeeding academically, graduating from high school, or pursuing post-secondary education. Such correlations have given rise to various reform approaches aimed at determining student risk factors and then intervening with assistance and support intended to help “at-risk” students succeed academically and complete school.

In terms of general education-reform trends, schools are increasingly taking a proactive approach to at-risk students (early identification of risk factors followed by support), rather than a passive or reactive approach (allowing students to drop out, fall behind their peers academically, or fail courses before intervening). The basic rationale encouraging these reforms is that schools can help at-risk students by increasing exposure to “success factors”—such as the personal attention and guidance of an adult, for example—and mitigating any risk factors that are within their control, such as reducing expulsions and grade retention, which can increase the chances that a student will drop out.

Many educators and researchers have also noted that various individuals within the same demographic or risk categories may have very different innate abilities, familial resources, support systems, or other personal or situational characteristics that can lead them to be more resilient or successful than others; consequently, these students would be less “at-risk” than many of their peers. In this view, at-risk is an overly broad label that inevitably fails to take into account the true complexity of any particular student’s situation. The concern is that, if schools act on general categorical assumptions, rather than diagnosing the specific learning needs of individual students and using that information to provide targeted academic support or more personalized learning experiences, the support they provide to students may be less useful or effective.