The term at-risk is often used to describe students or groups of students who are considered to have a higher probability of failing academically or dropping out of school.


  • Physical disabilities and learning disabilities
  • Prolonged or persistent health issues
  • Habitual truancy, incarceration history, or adjudicated delinquency
  • Family welfare or marital status
  • Parental educational attainment, income levels, employment status, or immigration status
  • Households in which the primary language spoken is not English
  • A history of academic failure.  Students who drop out may have a history of poor academic achievement going back as far as third grade (K. L. Alexander, Entwisle, & Dauber, 1995; Garnier, Stein, & Jacobs, 1997). On average, they have less effective reading and study skills, earn lower grades, obtain lower achievement test scores, and are more likely to have repeated a grade level than their classmates who graduate (Battin-Pearson et al., 2000; Jozefowicz, Arbreton, Eccles, Barber, & Colarossi, 1994; Raber, 1990; L. Steinberg et al., 1984; Wilkinson & Frazer, 1990).
  • Older age in comparison with classmates.  Because low achievers are more likely to have repeated a grade level, they are often older than their classmates (Raber, 1990; Wilkinson & Frazer, 1990). Some, but not all, research studies find that students who are overage in comparison with classmates are especially prone to dropping out of school (D. C. Gottfredson, Fink, & Graham, 1994; Roderick, 1994; Rumberger, 1995). Quite possibly, school becomes less attractive when students find they must attend class with peers they perceive as less physically and socially mature than they are.
  • Emotional and behavioral problems.  Potential dropouts tend to have lower self-esteem than their more successful classmates have. They also are more apt to create discipline problems in class, use drugs, and engage in criminal activities (Finn, 1991; Garnier et al., 1997; Jozefowicz et al., 1994; Rumberger, 1995; U.S. Dept. of Education, 1992).
  • Frequent interaction with low-achieving peers.  Students who drop out tend to associate with low-achieving, and in some cases antisocial, peers (Battin-Pearson et al., 2000; Hymel, Comfort, Schonert-Reichl, & McDougall, 1996). Such peers may argue that school is not worthwhile and are likely to distract students’ attention away from academic pursuits.
  • Lack of psychological attachment to school.  Students at risk for academic failure are less likely to identify with their school or to perceive themselves as a vital part of the school community. For example, they engage in few extracurricular activities and are apt to express dissatisfaction with school in general (Christenson & Thurlow, 2004; Hymel et al., 1996; Rumberger, 1995).
  • Increasing disinvolvement with school.  Dropping out is not necessarily an all-or-nothing event. In fact, many high school dropouts show lesser forms of dropping out many years before they officially leave school. Future dropouts are absent from school more frequently than their peers, even in the early elementary grades (Christenson & Thurlow, 2004; Finn, 1989). In addition, they are more likely to have been suspended from school and to show a long-term pattern of dropping out, returning to school, and dropping out again (Raber, 1990).


  • limited/direct instructions
  • peer support
  • modify/reduce assignments
  • workingcontract
  • increase one on one time
  • test/assessment read orally or given serperate 
  • paernetal involvement
  • seating
  • extended time