3 ways to better guide high school teachers in helping struggling students

Conversations with students is the leading way teachers figure out how to best help struggling learners
By: | November 5, 2021

Where do teachers go to find ideas and resources for supporting struggling students? Are they feeling like they can help some students more than others?

Principals, superintendents and other administration should take note of the three relevant findings from a new RAND Corporation survey on how and where high school teachers seek guidance supporting students’ academic needs:

  • Teachers rely most often on information gathered from interactions with students and students’ performance on teacher-created assignments and other tasks.
  • More than 50% of teachers first look to leaders in the school, support staff and other teachers for guidance on interventions and other supports.
  • Teachers are least likely to report knowing where to find resources to support English language learners and students experiencing poverty, and information about teaching anti-racist instruction.

“Teacher-created” is a key in the first finding. Just 10% or fewer of the teachers surveyed said they relied on the results of tests or quizzes included in curriculum materials, or data from curriculum software or grade-level tests, to intervene effectively with struggling students.

Grade-level tests, for instance, don’t give teachers timely intervention, the survey found.

Teachers working in higher-poverty schools were less likely to seek guidance from colleagues and more likely to look online. That may be because teachers in high-poverty schools tend to have less experience, the survey suggested.

However, teachers who work with larger proportions of students of color, students experiencing poverty and English language learners were more likely than other teachers to say they know where to find resources to support those specific communities.

Here are 3 recommendations to better support teachings in supporting struggling students:

  1. Develop guidance on using multiple sources of information: Administrators should encourage teachers to continue to use information gathered from students but should also help teachers better use testing data by making results available more quickly. Professional development can help teachers blend multiple sources of information on supporting students.
  2. Leverage professional learning to better inform intervention: Students benefit from educators who know more about evidence-based interventions. Administrators can boost the productivity of professional development by providing low-pressure PD sessions, particularly during the summer.
  3. Provide more descriptive information about student supports: Repositories of instructional materials often rank student supports based on alignment with academic standards or evidence of impact on student achievement. Local and state policymakers and leaders of national education policy organizations should work together to develop best practices to guide teachers in identifying high-quality materials to support diverse student populations.