How to Support Your Struggling Students this School Year

August 15, 2019
Back to School

Fall is just around the corner. That means students are beginning to funnel back into the classroom and teachers and administrators are once again spending their time assessing student learning needs and how to best support those who are struggling.

The average student who starts below grade level has a one in four chance of catching up, and if struggling students face barriers in achieving success, it can impact on-time graduation rates, passing and proficiency rates for high-stakes exams and the number of students who are falling below grade level. As the school year gets underway, keep the following three types of students in mind when considering how to best support those who may be struggling.

1) Supporting English language learners (EL)

English learner (EL) students represent the fastest growing student population in the U.S. One in 10 students are English language learners and nearly three out of four classrooms have at least one EL student. Yet just one-third of EL students reach basic proficiency on national exams in math and reading while the dropout rate for EL students is double the national average.

English learners need to simultaneously build language proficiency and grade-level mastery. These students benefit from the same literacy supports provided to struggling readers and from additional language supports. These can include language translation as they are transitioning to full English use and understanding, text-to-speech translation and practice through a variety of applications that provide students with guiding feedback that helps solidify understanding.

2) Supporting below proficient readers

Two out of every three eighth graders, or the average student who starts eighth grade, reads below grade level. Students who have literacy or language obstacles can face extreme barriers to understanding grade-level material across every subject. And only a third of students entering high school are proficient in reading according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

For below proficient readers, making sense of instruction in any content area can be a struggle. To be successful, students must master the rigorous grade-level content that prepares them for high-stakes assessment of standards. Below proficient readers achieve the best when they have several content options available, including language support, read aloud support, vocabulary support and context-rich instruction that unlocks meaning. Below proficient readers also need to be able to understand the meaning of the content through visualizations, interactive instruction, close reading tools and study guides.

3) Supporting Students with learning gaps

In a longitudinal study of nearly 13,000 urban students, researchers found that 82 percent of sixth graders who had failed an English class did not go on to graduate from high school. Two out of three eighth graders are below grade level in math, and 80 percent of high school dropouts cited their inability to pass Algebra I as a primary reason for leaving school.

Students with learning gaps need to address these gaps so they are better able to move through grade level content. Once students get on track, they need to stay on track. For these students it’s important to deliver instruction in small learning “chunks” to ensure better processing and retention of their learning. Frequent, non-scored checks for understanding can provide instructive, answer-specific feedback that quickly corrects and validates students’ understanding before they move on to the next task. Adaptive remediation should provide age-appropriate instruction specifically aligned with on-grade skills to build a purposeful path to understanding.


Opportunity Thrives with Apex Learning

An industry leader with deep expertise in digital curriculum, Apex Learning works closely with school districts across the country to implement proven solutions that increase on-time graduation rates and create opportunities for student success in school and beyond. The company is driven by the understanding that supporting the needs of all students – from struggling to accelerated – strengthens schools and creates stronger communities, brighter futures and a more equitable world. For more information, visit:


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