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Eight ways to identify at-risk students




As an educator, learning to recognize when a student needs your help is one of your most important responsibilities. Your classroom should be a place where everyone feels safe, nurtured, and accepted. 

Stepping up for a struggling student, whether they’re experiencing trouble at home or not having their needs met in the classroom, can make all the difference in the world. 

Given that at-risk students usually won’t outright tell you that they need your help, you need to learn to recognize the signs in another way.

What Is An At-Risk Student? 

Put simply, an at-risk student is any student likely to either fail a class or drop out of school entirely. There are many issues which may cause a student to be at risk. These include, but are not limited to: 

  • Poverty
  • Bullying at school
  • Familial abuse
  • Health problems
  • Unplanned childbearing
  • Grief
  • Overlooked learning difficulties
  • Untreated mental illness

How to Identify an At-Risk Student

While your own intuition as an educator can sometimes help you identify when a student is at risk,this isn’t always reliable. There’s a good chance you’ll miss something. With that in mind, the best way to determine whether or not a student is at risk can be summed up with a single word — data. 

By collecting and consolidating all available data about a student, you can identify the most notable warning signs.

Tardiness and Absences

Has a student with otherwise consistent attendance started to frequently arrive late to class or miss class altogether? This is a clear indication that something may be going wrong in the student’s personal life. Alternatively, if a student displays inconsistent attendance or regularly misses class directly from the beginning, it may be worth making an effort to understand why. 

Poor Grades

Consistently low grades, particularly at the beginning of a semester, is a clear indication that a student’s learning needs are not being met. This may mean they aren’t being taught in a way that’s compatible with their personality, or it could simply mean they struggle with a particular subject and require extra assistance. Students with consistently poor grades may also have a learning disability, though this is never something you as an educator should diagnose on your own—leave that to a registered psychologist. 

Declining performance is also a cause for concern.

Behavior and Attitude

If a student regularly runs afoul of teachers and school administrators, it may indicate that the student is dealing with an undiagnosed issue. Alternatively, it could be that they’re frustrated with a lack of progress or support in the classroom. It’s important to understand, however, that disruptive behavior is not the only factor you need to monitor. 

It’s also important to assess each student’s individual attitude and approach to their education. A student who fails an exam, for instance, may simply give up on the assumption that they’re not smart enough to excel. Another student who fails the same test might instead try to find out what they did wrong so they can do better next time. 

Different students also have different thresholds for failure — 80 percent may be a perfect score for one student, but another student might consider that a failing grade. 

This is where your intuition as an educator comes in. Working with each of your students, you should be able to form a good idea of their personalities, wants, and needs. This is doubly true if you have access to data from other teachers in your school. 

By combining this information with your own judgment, you may be able to pre-emptively identify students with a low level of commitment or resilience and provide them with the encouragement and guidance they need to thrive.

Usage of Assistance Services

This metric is a bit more difficult to track than the others, in large part because it may not always be relevant. Not every K-12 school offers services like tutoring or disability support. Additionally, not every school will notify educators if a student is seeing a guidance counselor. 

With that said, if your school does offer any sort of support services and you’re provided with data on which students are using these supports, this is a valuable means of identifying who may be at-risk, particularly when contextualized with other student data.  

Financial Pressures

Financial problems may take the form of failed payments to the school, though it’s not always so obvious. This is another area where you should use your intuition as an educator to look for signs of financial stress, hardship, or neglect. These may include:

  • Frequently showing up without lunch. 
  • Wearing the same outfit several days in a row. 
  • Clothes that appear worn or dirty. 
  • Constantly borrowing school supplies from peers or from the classroom itself. 

Student Feedback

At-risk students don’t often tell you they need help, but this doesn’t mean they never do. If you’ve a means of collecting feedback from students on their education or classroom experience, whether anonymous or otherwise, do so. Even younger students have a better grasp of their educational needs than you might expect.

Participation in Extracurricular Activities

If your school offers any extracurriculars, pay careful attention to which students participate in them and which students don’t. While this isn’t necessarily an indicator of risk on its own, it does indicate student engagement. Low engagement can be a marker for deeper problems with a student’s educational experience.

Additionally, if a student who is generally active in their extracurriculars begins to withdraw, pay attention. They might simply be overwhelmed and trying to avoid overcommitment. Or there might be something else going on behind the scenes.  

Performance in Other Classes

Last but certainly not least, if your school is anything like most K-12 institutions, you likely aren’t the only teacher responsible for your particular group of students. Look at what other teachers are saying about each student. Even if someone is performing well in your class, they may still be at-risk if they’re showing performance or behavioral issues in another. 

Assessing the needs of your students ultimately comes down to painting as complete a picture of their experience as possible — that’s not usually something you can do on your own. 

Take a Data-Driven Approach to Student Success

As an educator, you can be the difference between success and failure for your students. The more data you can collect and the more effectively you can evaluate that data, the better-equipped you’ll be to ensure every student gets what they need to excel. Edsembli | SIS can help with that. 

Powerful and feature-rich, Edsembli | SIS is a cloud-based platform purposefully-designed to address the evolving needs of teachers, education management, and most importantly, students. 

Armed with comprehensive analytics and a single source of truth for all student information, it helps identify at-risk students more efficiently and effectively. And in so doing, it ensures you can intervene and help them sooner rather than later.

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