Four Ways You Can Support Struggling Middle and High School Students

When students start middle or high school with gaps in learning, developing a strategy to intervene is paramount and can be challenging. There are many extra factors to consider that don’t apply to elementary intervention. You might find yourself asking: When in the school day will these students get the focused instruction they require? How far back does intervention need to go? Are secondary teachers equipped to deliver foundational instruction? Educators are grappling with these questions and seeking solutions to help students prepare for what’s next—be it course readiness, graduation, or career plans. After reflecting on many conversations with Edmentum customers who use Exact Path, we’ve compiled four of those best practices and considerations to help support your struggling middle and high school students.

1. Make Dedicated Time in the Schedule

The elementary school day lends itself to dedicated intervention blocks and pull-out programs in ways that secondary schedules simply don’t. In K–5 classrooms, teachers have fewer students to support, often more time to work with them, and additional access to foundational strategies that, together, make the intervention process more manageable. However, once students hit middle or high school and are met with a packed schedule of individual courses (all taught by different instructors), where is there room and time for intervention? And, when there is time for intervention, who is skilled to deliver it (sometimes at a foundational elementary level)?

Middle and high schools are finding success in a host of ways, including:

  • Tutorials before/after school.
  • I.N. (or “What I Need”) time, scheduled in designated remediation periods.
  • Remedial subject-specific classes that split time between on-grade instruction and academic gap closure.

2. Ensure You Spot Any Gaps

Often, students are missing one or two critical skills that will block them from making any meaningful progress. This can be incredibly frustrating, particularly for the student who feels like they have a mountain too steep to climb. It may also be challenging for the teacher who might have trouble identifying exactly what these gaps are and accessing resources to help close them. This is where a digital program can really make a difference.

With Exact Path, the diagnostic assessment looks across all K–12 curriculum to understand exactly what skill gaps are keeping students from making progress. And, when the assessment determines a 9th grader has 4th grade skills that need to be strengthened, it doesn’t mean that student has to review all 4th grade material—rather, the program delivers a targeted playlist of lessons that represent exactly what the student needs to work on to help get back to grade level. This targeted approach yields powerful information for the instructor and helps students make significant gains in the most efficient way possible.

3. Set Secondary Teachers Up for Success

When teachers are forced to teach skills and standards that are on grade level because that’s what the country-specific scope and sequence require, they are doing struggling students a disservice. But, can we expect all secondary teachers to be experts in teaching fundamental math concepts and essential comprehension skills that students should have picked up years earlier? Classroom teachers are experts in their craft, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also human, and we all have limitations. Allow technology to help extend the academic reach and capture additional insights that will guide instructional approaches.

With Exact Path, instructors no longer have to guess if students have mastered something or don’t have the capacity to approach a skill. Instead, they receive real-time notifications while students engage in targeted intervention in an online environment. When gaps are wide and it’s “all hands on deck” to meet the need, school leaders can feel confident that the personnel or staff can successfully support students, even outside of their chosen content area.

4. Give Students Ownership in the Process

Students at the secondary level who are struggling don’t suddenly start experiencing these struggles overnight. Likely, the struggles have followed students throughout their academic career which, in turn, leaves them to believe that school will always be hard for them and that there’s just no way around it. This fixed mindset is tough to overcome.

For these students, quantifiable data reports that expose gaps, highlight strengths, and accompany a path forward can break down these overwhelming feelings, into manageable steps that students can actively pursue. The Exact Path Student Summary Report and Knowledge Map data views can be critical for forward planning, which is critical to keeping students engaged.

This sort of data analysis also fosters conversations that connect these ideas back to larger academic goals. For example, if in 10th grade geometry you see that students are still struggling with certain skills in the domain of measurement, data, and statistics, you can highlight that domain and target particular skills that are connected to the on-grade-level standards or concepts you know that students need to understand. This powerful, big-picture style of thinking encourages students to persist, even when things get hard.

Interested in learning more about how Exact Path, our K–12 assessment-driven, individualized learning program, can support secondary intervention?

6 Planning Tips for Effective Intervention Programs

A successful intervention program can make a big difference for struggling students and help them get back on track. With so much research on student intervention as well as changing trends, it can be challenging to determine what truly makes an intervention program effective. While you’re working on improving or tweaking your intervention program for the upcoming school year, explore these six tips that may help with your planning.

1. Leverage data

Leveraging data is the key to understanding where your students are struggling in a particular objective, and it can be a regular and consistent way to determine their level of understanding. Aligning data with your instructional goals or intervention objectives can help you take your students to the next level.

2. Utilize assessments effectively

Assessments typically serve two different purposes: to monitor student progress and to identify students who are at risk. Performance on various assessments should be used to identify targeted interventions for different student groups and to determine if students in those groups are making the expected progress. Programs can be used to help prescribe content for your students so that you can spend more time working directly with them in subjects they are struggling with.

3. Maintain consistency with processes and communication

One of the most important aspects of any intervention program is consistency. Making sure that teachers, administrators, and parents are all on the same page can help provide a great experience for all involved. In a successful intervention program, all students are part of a single, research-based instructional system.

4. Identify special populations and intervene early

When you notice that a student is struggling, early intervention is crucial. In order to identify these students, you have to have the appropriate procedures, training, and assessments in place. Without properly equipped staff, it can be easier for a student to fall through the cracks. For example, continual absenteeism can be a contributing factor to a student’s success in school. As students reach the later grade levels, intervention programs can also be a critical dropout prevention strategy. By identifying struggling students early on, you can keep them engaged and motivated to stay on track to graduate.

5. Encourage professional development

Well-prepared staff can be the key to a successful intervention program. What’s the best way to ensure this? Professional development is, of course! Make regular training sessions on instructional best practices a priority, offer your educators plenty of opportunities for collaboration, and ensure that all of your staff are well-trained in all technology resources available to them.

6. Listen to the research

Every successful intervention program has, at the core, scientific, evidence-based curriculum and instructional practices. Allow some time to vet any new tool, approach, or online program before implementation to make sure that it’s backed by strong research. For instance, many of our own programs have undergone an extensive research and approval process through Marzano Research.

Supporting Varied Learner Readiness: Intervention to Accelerated and Everything in Between

Intervention normally underpinned by a three-tiered approach has become a lot more complex. Differences in readiness caused by COVID-19 school closures have taken the ideas of reteaching and recovery and expanded them. Digital curricula are invaluable when serving the range of support needed for not only struggling students but also those who are in advanced academic courses. While an increased dependence on digital curriculum and formative assessments developed quickly, a strong, flexible curriculum enables differentiated support of students.

Advanced Academics

For the purposes of later comparison, let us establish the needs of advanced academic and accelerated courses, leading to advanced placement and advanced academic enrollment.

Students demonstrating the gifted and talented status in a subject may elect to accelerate forward in the subject’s sequencing of courses to reach their desired level of academic advancement. However, an academic year is often too short to cover all tier 1 standards in each course, let alone 1.5, or even 2 courses worth. To meet that timeframe, teachers and instructional teams pare down courses to the standards that are essential to the scaffolded development of the subject. These essential or power standards serve as the non-negotiable bedrock of learning. Positioning the core standards as a backbone of curriculum design places schools in a more flexible position when shifts between online and hybrid options are required. Leveraging educational tools around the standards keep learners moving toward the demonstration of the skill, as opposed to the adherence of a schedule.

Historically, instructional teams made these decisions by mapping the standards of the courses and the relative activities within teacher-led instruction and hard-copy texts. Today, instructional teams enjoy the efficiency and flexibility of digital curricula. Perhaps the digital curricular partner has predeveloped the power standards course versions, and then the interface provides the ability to maneuver the “blocks” of courses into a custom course curriculum. Teachers can use these resources to follow their primary instruction, precede instruction in a flipped environment, or make them available to students when they’re ready, in learner-led or self-paced courses.

Accelerated courses combine the power standards of two courses: those in the on-level course, plus those from the course in the following level, in order to propel a student in a sequence of courses that increase trajectory.

Accelerate to Readiness

Keeping with the theme of time deficits, schools and teachers might feel that they are under pressure due to delayed school start dates, reduced instructional minutes from blended or virtual implementation, and increased emphasis on the social and emotional needs of students. Versioning and delivery of on-level courses into power standards or accelerate courses alleviate pressure on teachers and families to complete courses in the allotted time and give teachers discretion on enrichment and deeper knowledge activities.

Likewise, summer slide has always been a challenge for educators, and now teachers across the world are seeing that the decline of learners’ readiness increased with the addition of COVID-19 school closures. Families displayed a great variance in their continuation of learning during closures, even within the same location. Schools are returning to virtual, as well as traditional school classrooms, with increased deficits in student readiness.

Connecting back to the established notion of power standards, schools with flexible digital curricula are choosing to support grade-level instruction with the power standards of the preceding grade or course. This practice serves to accelerate the readiness of the students to new, on-grade-level material. Teachers can enjoy the handiness of organized power standards of the preceding courses available to intervene and scaffold as needed. Furthermore, teachers can utilize pretests as timely formative assessments to recognize which students need to interact with preceding standards.

The Re’s: Redo, Reteach, Replace, Recover

The spectrum of learners’ skills, gaps, and needs can be vast. All students will have pockets of standards-based misconceptions or skills that are underdeveloped.

We have noted some of the ways that digital curricula can proactively and efficiently aid teachers and instructional teams in meeting the needs of students. Now, let us be even more specific in support of standards and skill mastery of individual students.

Power standards themselves are meant to equally support all learners; therefore, teachers using digital curricula, have an organized wealth of resources (instruction and assessment) in order to facilitate mastery or competency-based learning. With a repository of standards-aligned resources, teachers can easily be flexible to serve students’ development of understanding by allowing: redoing of system-graded activities, reteaching via the right lesson for the right student at the right time, replacing grades via differentiated activities, and recovering units on which students lack mastery.

The term “unit recovery” tends to be less common than “credit recovery”. Unit recovery allows students to retake only the units or skills that they need in order to advance. In the past, schools may have had a computer lab that students attended when they needed to recover a credit. Today, with the abundance of blended and virtual learning, recovery units or lessons can be delivered to students within the same interface as any other course on their schedule. Pretests can then be utilized to determine not which standards need scaffolding but which ones students retain mastery in. Then, they are able to expedite students’ return to their cohort.

In a dynamic time in education, the support of digital curricula, instruction, and assessment systems aids in the proactive designation of power standards. Once those standards have been organized, they can be more closely differentiated in courses or units for virtual and blended learners. Such flexibility is a huge support for teachers aiming to identify and serve the needs of all learners, whether they are enrolled in advanced or accelerated courses or needing intervention to accelerate back to grade-level readiness.

Intervention vs. Remediation: What’s the difference?

Intervention and remediation (also commonly referred to as reteaching) have the same fundamental goal: supporting struggling students with focused learning opportunities in order to achieve academic success. The differences between these two types of instruction are critical to determining what sort of environment, time, and approach might be required to best serve your students. Here, we take a closer look at defining these terms and provide guidance on when and where they might fit into your instructional day.

Intervention

Intervention is often identified as a formal process for helping students who are struggling, where research-based instructional approaches are implemented around very specific skill deficits and where progress is regularly tracked. This intensive approach was first introduced with the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) as a method to help identify students with specific learning disabilities. Some of the more popular models include response to intervention (RTI) or a multi-tiered support system (MTSS). In practice, many schools use intervention to prevent learning gaps from widening further down the line and to identify students for special education referral.

Intervention frameworks are often divided into three sections, where about 80 percent of students are considered Tier 1 and receive core instruction and necessary remediation or reteaching. Tier 2 (5 to 15 percent of students) and Tier 3 (less than 5 percent of students) are then most directly involved in regular small-group or 1:1 interventions. In order to determine which students require intervention services, a formalized screening, and diagnostic assessment process is often used, during which specific strengths and needs are identified, growth targets are set, and a regimented plan for delivery and progress monitoring is outlined.

Remediation

At a fundamental level, remediation (or reteaching) means “teaching content again” to students that had previously failed to learn it. As a teacher recognizes misconceptions or errors in understanding, they may quickly redirect students through explicit remediation of that concept. This is done early on and for the benefit of all learners during core instruction in hope of preventing the majority of students from requiring more targeted, intensive interventions. Many teachers engage in remediation regularly as a natural part of instruction, without using a formal process or even explicitly recognizing their actions as intentional reteaching.

Remediation is also often guided by some sort of formative assessment, whether formal or informal, in order to gather enough insight to recognize the large breakdown in knowledge that students are experiencing. For this approach to be impactful, teachers must use a different method to the one initially used—one that builds on previous learning and focuses on the specific omissions in student thinking experienced the first time around. Ideally, remediation or reteaching is done early in the learning process, before additional skills are layered in or more formal mastery tests or summative exams are administered.

When to Use Each Approach

The best educators recognize both intervention and remediation as central to their daily instructional practices. In between delivering core instruction for a specific standard aligned to their explicit scope and sequence, these educators are constantly pausing to reflect and reteach, while similarly adding in intentional intervention time for those who might be struggling with underlying skills or concepts. This balancing act can often feel like navigating a decision tree but for instruction. Look below at the following infographic for an example.

Remediation vs. Intervention chart

When you understand the key differences of these instructional approaches and, better yet, the value each one holds, your practices as an educator can become even more intentional. For example, don’t waste your prescious time organizing all students into small groups for an intervention block when only 10 percent of them require this level of focused engagement. Also, don’t stop to remediate a concept to the whole class when just a subset of learners would really benefit from a hands-on alternative instructional method to achieve understanding. Knowing what your students need and how to best meet their needs will make for a more balanced learning ecosystem where everyone is receiving the right level of support at just the right time.