Applying the ‘70s Rule’ for At-Risk Intervention (page 3)
The primary responsibility of all school administrators is to protect students against failure. If you live by this credo, your leadership will challenge the assumption that certain students are destined to experience learning problems based on their school history, socioeconomic status and cultural background. Experienced teachers and administrators have the tendency to tacitly accept the fact certain children will fall through the cracks and there is nothing that can be done about it.
Of course, this isn’t true. Our school district of 900 students in northeastern Illinois follows a simple and practical idea to deal with students at risk of academic failure. I call it the “70s Rule.” This rule is really a four-step process to build a safety net around struggling students. It provides teachers, administrators and parents with a way to identify and remove obstacles to learning. Student success is not guaranteed but it does coordinate various forms of remediation.
For a student to be minimally successful in school, there’s general agreement they must maintain at least a 70 percent attendance rate, a 70 percent completion rate (on assignments) and a 70 percent accuracy rate (on completed work). Implementing the 70s Rule begins by tapping into a school’s student database by actively monitoring individual student attendance, completion and accuracy rates. If a student drops below the 70 percent level on any indicator, a process is set in motion that is designed to ameliorate learning problems before failure occurs.
Here’s how the 70s Rule can work, based on the experience in my school district:
Attendance component: At the midpoint and end of each grading period, a designated staff person runs an attendance report for every classroom. Any student with 30 percent or more missing days (for whatever reason) should be reported to the principal. If the student has legitimate reasons for the excessive absence (prolonged illness, death in family, etc.), it is noted on the report. The principal evaluates every attendance-rule violation and determines whether a student is at risk of academic failure.
Academic component: At the midpoint and end of each grading period, teachers check their grade books or computerized records for any students who have dropped below a 70 percent completion rate on classwork and homework and/or have a course average of 70 percent or less. When a student drops below the threshold on either indicator, the student is considered at risk and we intervene.
Step 1: The teacher fills out an “academic concern notice” and meets with the student to discuss his or her academic situation. The notice can be a simple form setting out in check-box fashion the various obstacles to learning that exist for the student and the subjects where these problems occur. The notice is sent to the parent along with a current progress report or other information explaining the deficiency. Our notice has a tear-off section to be signed by the parent and returned to the teacher. A copy of the notice also is turned over to the principal.
Step 2: If the student does not improve, the teacher contacts the parent directly. A phone call or face-to-face conference is attempted first. If this is unfeasible, a letter to the parent expressing concerns about the student is sent home. The teacher again copies the principal about the request for direct contact.
Step 3: If the student does not show adequate improvement toward meeting the 70s threshold, a copy of the most recent progress report is given to the principal, who becomes directly involved. The principal might convene a conference with the student and teachers or a meeting with a parent or require additional services, such as homework help, tutoring or counseling.
Step 4: If the student still does not show adequate improvement, the superintendent becomes directly involved by contacting the student/parents as a final means to address the obstacles to student success.
The best time to initiate each step is at the end of each grading period. The principal and/or the instructional team may decide to skip certain steps if circumstances warrant a more accelerated plan. While the process is to be automatically triggered any time a student falls below the 70 percent threshold on any of the three indicators (attendance rate, completion rate, accuracy rate), the basic intervention strategy and any of its steps can be employed whenever necessary to halt a student’s downward spiral.
The successful use of this intervention strategy requires adopting a systems approach to meeting student needs along with a willingness to resolve problems and work around obstacles. This may mean dealing with issues associated with a student’s home or neighborhood environment and those the student may have regarding tardiness, homework submission and getting help with assignments. Creating high expectations in an atmosphere of firm guidance and instructional support at every turn is central to this process.
The response plan for each student also should include individualized short-range academic goals that are challenging but doable to keep the student motivated. When a student reaches Step 3 or Step 4, it is important for the instructional team to refocus its efforts and begin again by starting where the student is at the moment. This is not a situation where one size fits all.
The most satisfying aspect of using the 70s Rule is the response from the students themselves. For at-risk students who typically have faced a long history of low expectations from teachers, the key to success lies in having a team of people looking out for them and monitoring their progress. This alone can convince a student that a successful academic future is within their grasp.
Experience has shown that from 15 to 25 percent of students cross the 70s threshold in any given grading period; however, most of these students turn around in Steps 1 and 2. Students who make it to the principal intervention stage are usually the chronic violators and the ones requiring superintendent involvement; they are the great risks for retention and dropping out. At that point, a full-blown conference with the entire instructional and administrative team, including myself, can result in an effective wake-up call for the student’s parents. It’s at this stage where you have to be creative.
Two years ago my district instituted a program we call the Last Chance Club for the chronic 7th- and 8th-grade violators. These are students who would likely need summer school to graduate or not graduate at all. Out of a class of 94 8th graders, 18 students were identified.
The program was designed to get tough with these students and their school work. Students worked in one room all day with a single focus in mind — to catch up. One-on-one instructional assistance was available. Students could earn their way out of the program on a weekly basis. After one week, the number of students in the club dropped to eight; then a few weeks later, we were down to four. One student continued for six weeks. Two went on to graduate and two did not.
One of the retained students moved out of district, but the other one returned and had a successful year. He even received a number of awards at graduation. When I asked him what had changed for him, he said: “You and the teachers paid attention to me, and I stopped hating school so much.”
James Tenbusch is superintendent of the Winthrop Harbor School District, 500 North Ave., Winthrop Harbor, IL 60096. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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