How to Help Struggling Learners in Middle and High School

Jun 07, 2024
Help struggling learners Edmentum article

When students get to middle or high school with gaps in learning, coming up with a plan to intervene with those struggling learners can be tricky.

There are a lot of 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 far and wide are grappling with these questions and seeking solutions to help struggling learners prepare for what’s next—be it course readiness, graduation, or beyond.

After reflecting on many conversations with Edmentum customers who use Exact Path, our K–12 assessment-driven, individualized learning program, we’ve compiled four of those best practices and considerations that you should know to help support your struggling middle and high school students.

1. Make Dedicated Time in the Schedule for Struggling Learners

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 struggling learners to support, more time to work with them, and additional access to foundational curriculum that, together, make intervention more manageable.

But, 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 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 plethora of ways, including:

  • Tutorials before/after school
  • W.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
  • Implementing push-in or pull-out strategies such as virtual tutoring, where students can receive intervention within the classroom while simultaneously allowing educators to remain available to other learners.

This conversation with Dr. Courtney Holley, the district MTSS director and school psychologist at Cook County Schools in Georgia, also provides some specific guidance on what intervention could look like for each grade band.

2. Dig Deep to Spot Gaps

Often, struggling learners are missing one or two critical skills that will block them from making any meaningful progress.

This can be incredibly frustrating, both for the student who feels like the mountain toward success is too steep to climb and for the teacher who may 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.

Identify Specific Blocks

With Exact Path, the diagnostic assessment looks across all K–12 curricula to understand exactly what skill gaps are keeping struggling learners from making progress.

And, when the assessment determines a 9th grader has 4th-grade skills that need to be shored up, it doesn’t mean that student must 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.

For schools and districts utilizing the NWEA MAP Growth Assessment or Renaissance Star Assessment to collect student data, Exact Path offers integration with both of these assessments to kick-start learning and deliver targeted K-12 instruction without any further testing.

Using a seamless integration or manual data upload, Exact Path creates individualized learning paths based on assessment scores. Further, implementing Exact Path to spot students’ skills gaps can positively impact future students' NWEA MAP Growth scores in math and reading, as demonstrated by this quasi-experimental efficacy study.

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 district scope and sequence requires, they are doing struggling students a disservice.

But can we expect all secondary teachers to be experts in teaching foundational math concepts and comprehension skills that students should have picked up years earlier?

Classroom teachers are experts in their craft, but they are also human, and humans have limitations.

Allow technology to help extend 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 find themselves backed into a corner if they don’t have the capacity to approach a skill.

Instead, they receive real-time notifications about where help may be needed in the program. When educators log in, they’re met with a robust bank of standards-aligned materials, including instructional videos, tutorials, practice items, and printable lessons and worksheets that can be used as online and offline assignments.

When gaps are wide, and it’s “all hands on deck” to meet the need, school leaders can feel confident that the personnel on 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 careers, which, in turn, leads 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 of failure 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 of this kind that is critical to keeping students engaged.

At Mitchell Community Schools in Mitchell, Indiana, Math Coach Melissa Epping recounts a personal story of just this: “Last year, in particular, I had a student who was [negatively] attitudinal about wanting to come in and did not want to do more math. I pulled him over privately and showed him the screen [in Exact Path that documents which skills students have mastered and where there still may be gaps in learning] and had a discussion to say: ‘Look, it’s not that you can’t do math, period. You’re just missing this skill, and when you fill that skill, then you’ll be able to build on that skill in the next grade level.’

“After he left that day, my assistant came over to me, and she said, ‘What did you say to him—because his whole demeanor changed from the time he walked to your desk and when he walked away from it?’ He went from thinking: ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I just need to fix this skill.’ I can’t even put into words the impact it had for that child to see that.” Check out more of Ms. Epping’s interview.

This powerful, big-picture style of thinking encourages students to persist, even when things get hard.

Interested in learning more about how Exact Path can support secondary intervention? Check out this brochure for more information.

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