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Identifying at-risk students can be a difficult task for instructors and administrators alike. Since the typical class size per teacher continues to grow, it is hard for any instructor to truly "know" their students. Also, many legal issues and battles make teachers quite wary of knowing their students on a personal level for fear of accusations of misconduct.
If that is the case, what does it take to identify at-risk students? There are a few simple ways to measure at-risk student behavior in a quantifiable manner. It may not work every time, but it can be as simple as tracking a few numbers and behaviors and keeping some good notes.
The first and most obvious metric to observe when looking for at-risk students is grades. What students have started out the semester with low scores? For the students who score low in the beginning, having a conversation with them may be the only help they need. Maybe they just needed motivation, or they might need assistance with study skills, writing skills, etc.
Also, keep track of student grades and see which students begin to have decline in scores. This is often a sign of issues outside of the classroom that are affecting the student's work. Again, a conversation might help, or this might be a good time to either alert the administration or to contact the student counselor for assistance. The administration or counselor may have already heard other concerns about that student and have a better understanding of what interventions might be necessary.
Another at-risk student behavior that can be easily tracked is tardiness or absenteeism. If a student continues to either be late for class or simply is not attending, this is another opportunity to alert either the administration or the counselor.
Finally, disruptive behavior is a sign of an at-risk student that can be easily monitored. If a student is being regularly disruptive, this is probably a time when that student should be forced to see the administration for either discipline or an intervention of some kind, as attempting to intervene in the classroom can cause more disruption for other students.
Once the administration or a counselor is alerted about an at-risk student, how can they help? Public schools would be wise to learn from the current trend in institutions of higher education. Many colleges and universities now have what is often called a "risk assessment team" that meets and confidentially discusses the complaints and concerns that teachers, staff, or other students have expressed about particular students. Having such a team allows schools to get a full picture of what might be happening with a student and allows for multiple perspectives on how to proceed.
While these strategies are not foolproof and some students might still be at risk without exhibiting such behaviors, using these tactics can give teachers a quantifiable plan of action on how to intervene when attempting to indentify at-risk students. Also, a risk-assessment team can help schools to develop better pictures of the students that might be at risk while working out detailed plans of action.