At-Risk : The Introduction

Definition: At-Risk Students

1. Kids who are failing or doing poorly in school or have certain characteristics or issues in their lives that might contribute to them failing or doing poorly in school.

Thus, other possible terms associated with “at risk students” are “low-achieving students” or “low performing students.”

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US Department of Education’s Characteristics or Indicators of “At-Risk Students”

  • From single-parent families

  • From a minority group (Black, Hispanic, and Native American students)

  • Lack of parental support (low expectations or uninvolved in academic matters)

  • Frequently changes schools

  • Poor attendance and tardiness

  • Often absent or skips classes

  • Poor grades in math and English

  • Failed one or more grade levels

  • Older than their peers

  • Little homework done

  • Unprepared for class

  • Overly disruptive or passive in class

  • Inattentive during class

  • Teachers feel they are underachievers

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“At-Risk” Students Often...

  • are male, minorities, and “poor.”

  • have low self-esteem.

  • have parents with poor education, who don’t care much about their children’s education.

  • have family problems such as being abused or neglected.

  • do not participate in school activities or identify with the school.

  • have disciplinary problems and truancy issues.

  • exhibit impulsive, delinquent behavior.

  • have problematic peer relationships.

  • abuse drugs and alcohol.

  • get pregnant.

  • go to jail.

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At-Risk Students Sometimes...

  • are homeless or migrants

  • have serious health issues

  • are victims of domestic violence and bullying

  • have learning disabilities

  • have friends who are doing poorly in school

  • have poor English skills

  • are LGBT

  • attend a low performing, underfunded school that has a majority of minorities

    Taken from

“At-Risk” Term Issues (Part 1)

According to Kristin Anderson Moore, Ph.D, for the term “at risk” there is “no consistent definition and can be viewed as stigmatizing certain groups… It is critical to note that ‘at risk’ is a concept that reflects a chance or a probability. It does not imply certainty.”


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“At-Risk” Term Issues (Part 2)

As you can see, the term “at-risk” is problematic because it is so broad that it describes a plethora of conditions and characteristics.  But it must be pointed out that, except for LDs, these circumstances are not innate and can be changed.  There is hope for us teachers trying to help such students even though the term itself might be almost meaningless due to its broad scope.  Nonetheless, some people think that the term is a harmful label that will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure once they are “saddled” with it from an early age.


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General Factors for At-Risk Students

There are

  • student-related,

  • family-related,

  • school-related, and

  • community-related factors.


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Basic Risk Factors for Being “At-Risk”

  • The U.S. Census Bureau found in 2001 that 54% of students have no significant risk factors for being “at-risk.”

  • 36% of at-risk students had familial risk factors, i.e., problems in the family.

  • 18% had personal risk factors.

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The Most Common Risk Factors

  • The most common personal risk factor in 2001 was failing a grade.

  • The most common family problem associated with at-risk students was kids not living with both of their parents in 2001.

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Some Basic Risk Factors from 2001

The % of risk factors across racial and geographical areas in the USA:

– At least one disability – 7.6%

– Retained in grade at least once – 8.1%

– Speaks English less than ‘very well’ – 4.9%

– Does not live with both parents – 30.8%

– Either parent emigrated in past 5 years – 2.3%

– Family income below $10,000 – 8.5%

– Neither parent/guardian employed – 10.5%

Quotation taken from

At-Risk Students = Potential Dropouts

2. At-risk students are “at risk” of not graduating from high school.

Taken from


Dropout Statistics in the USA (1986)

  • 25-40% of students do not finish high school in America.


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Dropout Statistics in the USA (2006)

  • Almost 1 out of 3 public high school students did not reach graduation in 2006.

  • About 67% of prison inmates in the US were high school dropouts.

  • Almost 50% of Latinos and African Americans did not graduate in 2006.

    • Therefore, race and other “risk factors” can be an indicator of identifying at-risk students.


Taken from,9171,1181646,00.html


Reasons for Dropping Out in Thailand

According to a Bangkok Post article, over 100,000 students drop out per year for the following reasons:

  • “bored with learning,”

  • drug addiction,

  • premature pregnancy,

  • changing homes, and

  • repeatedly bullied by other students.


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Possible Solutions of the BEC

The proposed solution of the Basic Education Commission (BEC) to help at-risk Thai students was:

  • set up counselling programs

  • improve the learning environment to motivate students

  • give counselling training to school staff

  • behavioural reform programs for suspended students

  • renewed focus on academic excellence

  • educate students to think and act morally and responsibly


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Recognizing At-Risk Students

The rubric for this project asks:  “Is there a student in your classroom that you believe may have this disability? How do you know?”

  • YOU NEVER KNOW for sure, but we have probably all had at-risk students at one point or another.

  • Use the indicators and risk factors you learn today to help recognize who might be at-risk in your classes.

  • Some school districts in the US have means to screen for at-risk students, e.g., early identification and early intervention to try to minimize potential problems in lower primary and beyond. 

Helping At-Risk Students

  • Remember that “at-risk” students, due to circumstance, only have the potential to do poorly or fail.  There is hope if the right action is taken early enough.

  • Build a relationship with potential at-risk students.

  • Plan your lessons accordingly, e.g., differentiated instruction.

  • Provide additional academic support as needed.

  • Ask for assistance from your counseling department and work with others to come up with solutions to issues.

  • Some school districts have various intervention programs to help at-risk kids.  See what is available near you.

Some ideas from this slide were taken from page 150 of our course textbook.

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