ERIC Identifier: ED292172 Publication Date: 1987-00-00
Author: Donnelly, Margarita Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
At-Risk Students. ERIC Digest Series Number 21.
Nationally over 25 percent of the potential high school graduates drop
out before graduation. In some major cities the rate is 40 percent. Higher
standards in the public schools have affected millions of minority and
disadvantaged students who are "at-risk." Educational reform has changed the
rules before the system has had a chance to accommodate to an increasing number
of students who are dropping out and becoming a burden to society. The
identification of at-risk students and the development of programs to prevent
their failure are necessary components of ducational reform.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF AT-RISK STUDENTS?
At-risk students are students who are not experiencing success in school and
are potential dropouts. They are usually low academic achievers who exhibit low
self-esteem. Disproportionate numbers of them are males and minorities.
Generally they are from low socioeconomic status families. Students who are both
low income and minority status are at higher risk; their parents may have low
educational backgrounds and may not have high educational expectations for their
At-risk students tend not to participate in school activities and have a
minimal identification with the school. They have disciplinary and truancy
problems that lead to credit problems. They exhibit impulsive behavior and their
peer relationships are problematic. Family problems, drug addictions,
pregnancies, and other problems prevent them from participating successfully in
school. As they experience failure and fall behind their peers, school becomes a
negative environment that reinforces their low self-esteem.
HOW CAN THEY BE IDENTIFIED AND AT WHICH AGE?
Some evaluation instruments that have been used in identifying potential
dropouts include the Elementary School Pupil Adjustment Scale (ESPAS) for
identifying poorly adjusted students in grades K-3, the Dropout Alert Scale
(DAS) for grades 4-12, and the Student Sensitivity Index (SSI) for grades 7-12
(see Cage and others 1984).
At-risk students need to be identified as early as possible and regularly
reevaluated because their family status and living situations can change. Some
researchers believe that the roots of at-risk behavior begin in the elementary
grades with low achievement patterns, high absenteeism, and low self-esteem.
Programs identifying and working with at-risk students are needed at every grade
level. Teachers should be well trained and alert to the symptoms of at-risk
student behavior, and administrative staff should be responsive to their needs.
It is especially important that teachers dealing with minority students have
training in language and cultural differences. Schools need to be a model for
equal opportunity and a place where the individual's needs for achievement and
positive experiences can be met. The needs of minority students, low income
students, and students with special problems must be addressed.
WHAT KINDS OF PROGRAMS ARE EFFECTIVE IN HELPING AT-RISK STUDENTS?
Successful programs often separate at-risk students from other students, they
relate work to education, are small, have low student-to-teacher ratios, and
provide counseling and supportive services. Most programs emphasize flexibility,
tailoring curriculum to the learning needs of the individual students. They are
often innovative, providing alternatives to traditional promotion policies,
structuring curriculum in nontraditional ways, offering early childhood
education programs, and including vocational education in alternative settings.
Effective programs are involved in a broad range of special services to help
at-risk students improve their low self-esteem while providing a supportive
system in which they can begin to have positive experiences. These include
remediation programs, tutoring, child care services, medical care, substance
abuse awareness programs, bilingual instruction, employment training, and close
followup procedures on truancy and absenteeism.
Finally, successful programs are service-intensive; they provide students
personal contact with a qualified, caring staff. Schools often work with the
community to identify at-risk students and to instruct parents on how to help
their at-risk children.
The New Haven Schools Project (CT) is an innovative nineteen-year-old project
in the New Haven elementary schools. Administrators, parents, teachers, and
support staff work collaboratively to provide at-risk students a climate in
which they are able to become successful. Achievement levels have been raised
while attendance and behavior problems have been lowered. One school originally
ranking thirty-third citywide now ranks third in achievement. The New Haven
Schools Project has successfully motivated at-risk students to achieve at a
higher level academically and socially (Comer 1987).
HOW DOES THE CURRENT PUSH FOR EXCELLENCE AFFECT AT-RISK STUDENTS?
Federal financial support for education fell 11 percent between 1980-87 while
the numbers of disadvantaged students grew nationwde by 20 percent. During the
same period the educational reform movement has diverted funds from elementary
and middle schools to high school reform programs. Many more students are
currently at-risk than ever before, while educational standards are being raised
Stricter standards for high school graduation in Florida have produced the
largest percentage of dropouts (38 percent) in a state nationwide. When the
graduation requirement of a 1.5 gradepoint takes effect in 1987 the dropout rate
is expected to rise even higher.
Recognizing that higher standards impose a "forbidding barrier" rather than a
challenge for at-risk students, the Governor's Task Force on Readiness has
prepared a national "action agenda" for states to follow to help at-risk
students meet higher educational standards. Among other initiatives, the task
force recommended "establishing a mechanism for state intervention when school
districts fail to make progress with low-achieving students," and developing
incentives for "effective school and classroom procedures and practices" (quoted
by Riley 1986).
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bondi, Joseph; and Jon Wiles. "School Reform in Florida--Implications for the
Middle School." EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 44 (1986): 44-46.
Cage, Bob N., and others. DROPOUT PREVENTION. Jackson: University of
Mississippi, June 1984. ED 260 321.
Comer, James P. "New Haven's School-Community Connection." EDUCATIONAL
LEADERSHIP 44 (1987): 13-16.
Druian, Greg. "Effective Schooling and At-Risk Youth: What the Research
Shows." Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Goal Based
Education Program, September, 1986. ED 275 926.
Green, Brenda Z. "Lower the Risk for 'At-Risk' Students." Alexandria, VA:
National School Boards Association, Educational Policies Service. Updating
School Board Policies, 17, 8, September, 1986.
"Identifying At-Risk Students." Eugene: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational
Management, University of Oregon. The Best of ERIC on Educational Management,
November, 1986. ED 275 053.
O'Connor, Patrick. "Dropout Prevention Programs That Work." Eugene, OR:
Oregon School Study Council, December, 1985. OSSC Bulletin Series. ED 275 065.
Riley, Richard W. "Can We Reduce the Risk of Failure?" PHI DELTA KAPPAN 68
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