By Mary Stewart-Oliver, M.A., M.Ed., PPSC, Counselor for The Prentice School

With the California public school system ranking the lowest in the nation for student-teacher ratio, at an average of 24-1, compared to the national average of 16-1, conducting thorough student assessments can be challenging. Therefore, students are often grouped loosely based on a broader domain of skills versus a more individualized set of skills and work habits.

For students who are struggling academically or who have learning challenges, there is an even greater need for a more detailed observation and assessment of their individual skills, weaknesses, strengths and work habits. Teachers should hone in on the needs of each student to assess if they require a more comprehensive, targeted, instructional intervention. For the most successful outcome, every student should be viewed through different lenses.

While California public schools are required to adhere to guidelines, including those established through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), overcrowded classrooms can make it difficult to implement targeted interventions flawlessly. Targeted interventions are most effective when specific academic issues or barriers to the student’s learning are clearly identified prior to prescribing interventions. The following criteria are necessary for targeted intervention to be successful:

  1. The student-teacher academic relationship must be considered – Targeted intervention takes a lot of time and investment for educators, which often yields teachers who are very passionate and seek to find strategies that will work for each student. However, the strategies that may work for one student may not work for another. This also applies to teacher-student relationships. A student must respond well to the teachers with whom they are placed.
  2. Appropriate peer grouping – Finding a peer group that works for a student is essential to their success. Finding even the smallest success from this strategy can help boost their confidence while achieving positive results. Intervention helps to bridge the gap between intellectual knowledge and practical application. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work – Individualization is the key.
  3. Restoring self-esteem – Many students have low self-esteem due to academic and social struggles, bullying and lack of proper educational support. It is important to highlight and teach to their strengths to remediate the weaknesses. Recognizing their strengths and maximizing their talents can build their confidence, which plays a huge part in yielding success.
  4. Family Involvement – Intervention should not be left solely to educators to produce a positive outcome. Families play an important role in the intervention process.  They should be encouraged to ask questions, raise concerns, and to provide observations about their child’s progress during the process.  It is the collaboration of efforts by educators, specialists, administrators and family members that boasts the greatest results.
  5. Open communication with students – Especially for students in 5th grade and beyond, open communication is vitally important.  Helping them to understand their own academic and social struggles and the strategies that will help them overcome these struggles, promotes acceptance, resulting in a profound impact on their academic performance. Students need to be comfortable with who they are and accept their own individual learning differences so that they can be proactive advocates for themselves in the future.
  6. Response to Intervention (RTI) monitoring – RTI is a comprehensive, multi-step process that closely monitors curriculum-based progress on an ongoing basis to measure the results and effectiveness of targeted intervention. RTI was designed to encourage school districts to provide additional support for struggling students within general education programs by measuring their skills and using data to decide which types of targeted teaching to use.

Too often, students are grouped based on test scores and academic performance while their personality and individual skills are overlooked. For students with learning differences to benefit from targeted interventions, proper assessment and consideration of the above criteria is essential. The ultimate goal of targeted intervention should be to give each student proper skills and tools to function as an independent learner with the most effective but least intrusive intervention.