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Risk Factors

The Ministère de l’Éducation (MEQ, 2007) defines the term “at-risk” as “students at the preschool, elementary and secondary levels who present certain vulnerability factors that may affect their learning or behaviour, and who may therefore, be at risk, especially of falling behind either academically or socially, unless there is timely intervention.”

Image by Felix Mittermeier

What are vulnerability factors?

There is no archetype for an 'at-risk' student. Students who struggle to succeed in school come from diverse backgrounds and have a range of abilities. However, risk factors, also known as vulnerability factors, can put certain students at a potentially higher risk of being unsuccessful in school. The National Dropout Prevention Center lists, below, the aspects of a child’s life that may affect their ability to be successful in school. While there are many factors that may place a student at risk, certain factors are strong indicators of potential dropouts: academic performance, repeating a grade, and low school engagement (Leblanc et al., 1997; Janosz et al., 2013; SAGE, 2015). Additionally, low socio-economic status (SES) is one of the most prevalent predictors of students becoming at-risk, regardless of the education system.

School Related

  • Conflict between home/school culture

  • Ineffective discipline system

  • Lack of adequate counseling

  • Negative school climate

  • Lack of relevant curriculum

  • Passive instructional strategies

  • Inappropriate use of technology

  • Disregard of student learning styles

  • Retentions/Suspensions

  • Low expectations

  • Lack of language instruction

Student Related

  • Poor school attitude

  • Low ability level

  • Attendance/truancy

  • Behavior/discipline problems

  • Pregnancy

  • Drug abuse

  • Poor peer relationships

  • Nonparticipation

  • Friends have dropped out

  • Illness/disability

  • Low self-esteem/self-efficacy/poor self-concept

Family Related

  • Low SES

  • Dysfunctional home life

  • No parental involvement

  • Low parental expectations

  • Non-English-speaking home

  • Ineffective parenting/abuse

  • High mobility

Community Related

  • Lack of community support services or response

  • Lack of community support for schools

  • High incidences of criminal activities

  • Lack of school/community linkages

How do some students defy the odds?

Many students defy the odds; presenting with multiple risk factors, they still manage to be successful in school. So, why are some at-risk students successful while others are not? It is important to note that correlation does not equal causation; just because a student may present with multiple risk factors does not necessarily mean that they are at-risk. A variety of reasons could account for their success - resilience, grit, growth mindset, or the effects of preventative measures already in place. Whatever the case may be, it is important that schools recognize these empowering influences by identifying characteristics of successful at-risk students that need to be nurtured and highlighting effective preventative practices that are already in place.

Nevertheless, certain risk factors are powerful predictors of dropout. Systematically identifying students who display signs of being at-risk allows school teams to not only implement appropriate support measures but also monitor their progress.

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