Differentiating for Struggling Students

Differentiating for struggling students is as important a type of differentiation as any in the classroom.  Prior colleague Joel Boyd serving as an assistant superintendent in Philadelphia, he was a tremendous middle school principal.  I asked Joel to recount his implementation of SCORRES.  Read about this great practice below:
The program – the first of its kind in Philadelphia at the middle school level – was designed to ensure that all of our students were truly on a path to college when they left middle school and entered high school.  The program, which we called SCORRES (Students Capable of Reaching and Retaining Educational Success), was supported by two of our best teachers (1 Literacy/SS and 1 Math/Sci).  The teachers helped to design the program and were skilled at reaching students academically as well as emotionally.
Students were recommended for the program by teachers throughout the school who participated on the school’s Student Assistance Team. We developed a series of indicators which we knew, based on research, placed a child at-risk for dropping out of high school (behavior, academics, attendance, etc.).  Based on those indicators, the team determined whether an alternative environment could better meet a student’s needs.  If the team decided that SCORRES was a fit for a child, a meeting would be held with the parent to discuss the option.
The program, which was housed in the school, worked as a transitional program – students maintained their seats in their original classes and entered the program with a goal of returning to the general class setting, better equipped socially and academically.  In the program, students were provided with extended academic time in math and literacy.  The teachers were provided with added resources, particularly technology, which allowed them to create more relevant and rigorous lessons.  The teachers were also provided with significantly reduced class sizes – each teacher had just 15 students.  During the school day, the teachers provided the students with engaging lessons while also working to meet their behavioral needs through targeted counseling.  As students progressed, the students were given the opportunity to choose to return to their original classes – one class at a time.  After 12 weeks, students returned to their original full class schedule, but they always maintained a connection to their SCORRES teachers who provided added support.
The supports provided to the students in the program are obvious.  However, what may not be as obvious is the support that was also provided to the other teachers and students in the bldg.  Every parent and every teacher wanted reduced class sizes.  However, in order for the strategy to work, we would have had to significantly reduce the number of students in each room and double our teaching staff – We simply couldn’t afford it.  With the SCORRES program, we were able to significantly reduce the size of the class for our most at-risk students.  The ripple effect was a strategic class size reduction in every classroom in the school.  By placing the students who were taking up 99% of their teachers’ time in an alternative program, the teacher was able to refocus her energy on the other students who remained in the class.  When the SCORRES students returned, they were better equipped to meet their teachers’ expectations – Disruptions were lessened and academic time was increased.
Of course, the program was not 100% effective.  However, our data indicated a significant improvement in performance for all students.  The program was eventually discontinued following my departure due to budget cuts, but I still receive calls from teachers and principals asking about the possibilities for their schools.

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