Meeting the Needs of Struggling Students

July 25, 2018

This is the eighth blog in a series where we will be exploring the topic of innovation and its impact on digital curriculum. 

When students are below or at risk of falling below grade level in one or more subject, it’s an immense challenge for teachers to meet their needs while continuing to meet the needs of the rest of the students in their class. If struggling students don’t get the support they need, they often lose motivation, fall further behind, score lower on high stakes exams and become at risk of dropping out.

Districts need a curriculum that allows them to identify and close students’ gaps, often down to elementary level skills. Because there’s no one reason students are below grade level, districts need a curriculum that can meet the needs of a wide range of students—particularly struggling, English language learners (ELL), special education, and historically disengaged students.  

Defining the struggling student challenge

Many students aren’t ready for grade-level work. Many middle school students pass enough classes to get promoted, but are behind in one or more subjects.  Those students come to high school and continue to fall behind, many failing to graduate with their cohort. Students succeed when they’re supported and engaged, but giving every student what they need right when they need it is challenging and, at times, more than any one teacher can offer.

When students are behind, academic failure can quickly become part of a student’s self-image. When students are behind, graduation can feel out of reach (“If I can’t even do this today, how can I ever graduate?”). And when some students are behind, it’s a challenge for teachers to meet their needs alongside the rest of the class. This often leads to teachers needing to choose whether to serve a struggling student or their peers.

Remediation needs to work in sync with core classroom instruction. When students fall too far behind their peers, many start to lose motivation. To keep on track and stay motivated, students need to feel successful alongside their peers. To keep in sync, the remedial curriculum needs to adapt to the content of the core classroom and to the needs of each student. In addition, core teachers need continuous insight into and influence over student progress in the remedial class.

As an administrator, it’s hard to affect change in every classroom. It’s hard to know how it’s going with just interim exam data to rely on. It’s also difficult to get buy-in to any district effort as teachers are already working hard and have a strong sense of what works in their classroom.

How can digital curriculum support struggling students?

For more than 20 years, Apex Learning has been providing effective digital curriculum designed to actively engage students in learning—combining embedded supports and scaffolds to meet diverse student needs, actionable data to inform instruction, and success management—to districts nationwide.

If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that struggling students are successful when they’re well-supported (using scaffolds and supports); engaged (with active learning); and given constant, page-by-page feedback (built into the curriculum). In other words, students succeed when they’re active learners, not passive receivers.

Apex Learning digital curriculum presents information using activity types that are the most effective for the concept begin taught, scaffolds that provide context and variety and on demand supports, so students with language development concerns are exposed to many ways of gathering and processing information. Information is presented in manageable chunks to assist cognitive processing and long-term retention.

It’s not a single thing that makes supporting struggling students in Apex Learning digital curriculum different; it’s the combination of how we build these scaffolds and supports into the instruction to support the specific learning needs of each student that makes it so effective. We start with the expectation that all students can master rigorous content. Then, we develop the structure, strategies, and features to help them do that, including:

  • Breaking instruction into digestible chunks
  • Frequent self-checks with focused feedback
  • A variety of media (audio, text, animations, video, etc.)
  • Multiple representations
  • Active reading, vocabulary, and writing strategies
  • Study sheets, writing guides, reading guides
  • Explicit teaching of academic processes


The way we build scaffolds and supports into the instruction means that students have access to help the minute they need it without having to wait for it, they have context for new information instead of just receiving facts and they receive formative feedback to help them build skills as opposed just getting hints.

For initial credit or credit-deficient students, rigorous digital curriculum—with the active learning, scaffolds, and supports needed for success—can be the difference between dropping out and earning a high school diploma. Our Courses provide students who have not been successful in their studies the opportunity to get back on track to graduation. High expectations that are supported by active learning, scaffolds, and supports allow students to learn more, and we have efficacy data to prove it.

For students with skill and concept gap remediation or exam readiness needs, personalized adaptive remediation can be the key to keeping on track toward graduation and being prepared for the future. Our Tutorials with adaptive remediation, identify and fill skill gaps by focusing learning on each student’s areas of deficiency, resulting in success in passing classes the first time and achieving success on high-stakes tests.

To learn more about our Courses and Tutorials, please reach out to me directly at


Grad Selfie


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