How Do You Identify Students At-Risk?

Author: Matthew Korobkin, Senior Advisor – PCG.

Proactively identifying students at-risk of academic failure is essential to ensuring students are maintaining appropriate grade-level progress and graduating with their four-year cohort. However, in often using home-grown solutions, districts struggle to easily and longitudinally analyze some of the most critical indicators to assess student risk, including student-level assessments, attendance, and other academic or student behavior data. A highly effective strategy to monitoring these indicators is to employ an early warning and intervention management system that facilitates both an ease in evaluating key risk indicators and consistently guides educators through: (1) the identification of at-risk students, both before and during the time they have been referred to an Intervention and Referral Service (I&RS) team; (2) the documentation of student interventions conducted for at-risk students; and (3) the longitudinal analysis of student intervention data, at both the student and aggregate levels.


In New Jersey, I&RS teams are charged with identifying the learning, behavior, and health difficulties of students; collecting information on identified students; developing and implementing action plans; and providing support to school staff about these difficulties. Students receiving supported interventions through I&RS continue to receive supports in the general education classroom. Through this process, students suspected as possibly having a disability are referred to their school’s Child Study Team for further assessment.

It is frequently the case that an I&RS referral may be the first time a student is determined at-risk for academic failure. Districts sometimes struggle with making data-informed I&RS referrals because they may not have a graphical, longitudinal snapshot of relevant indicators in one place to proactively identify students at-risk. When districts leverage an early warning and intervention management system that graphically depicts key risk indicators, educators and I&RS teams can more proactively assess risk and promptly begin interventions to support student success.


A recent study by researchers at New York University found challenges with intervention and referral teams: inconsistencies and unbalance in team operation and membership, a lack of protocols and processes, poorly maintained records of interventions and their effectiveness, and a failure to use benchmarks or screening tools to identify students in need of interventions.[i]

Recognizing a lack of consistency on how New Jersey districts and I&RS teams across the state were supporting struggling learners, the 2015 New Jersey Special Education Task Force on Improving Special Education for Public School Students identified the need for systemic services that are data-driven. It also recommended that student progress with this system be monitored with fidelity and frequency as part of the activities of the I&RS team.[ii] In 2016, in partnership with Rutgers University and stakeholders across the state, the New Jersey Department of Education led the development of the New Jersey Tiered System of Support (NJTSS).

NJTSS is a framework of academic and behavioral supports and interventions to improve student achievement, based on the core components of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) and the three-tier prevention logic of Response to Intervention (RTI). Designed as a prevention framework to meet the academic, behavioral, health, enrichment, and social-emotional needs of all students, each of the three tiers supports intensity of a child’s unique challenges. Core components of NJTSS include: high-quality learning environments, curricula, and instructional practices; universal screening; data-based decision making; and progress monitoring.

NJTSS is meant to be a consistent approach to prevention, intervention, and enrichment, and calls for a continuum of supports at the district- and school-level based on student learning of grade-level knowledge and skills.

Whether or not districts choose to adopt NJTSS, MTSS, or RTI, they must have a consistent system for data collection and documentation that allows for the creation of intervention plans and collection of progress monitoring data to determine a student’s response to instruction and/or intervention(s). Engaging in interventions with fidelity and consistently documenting outcomes will further ensure the success of students who are at-risk for academic failure and is a key component of an effective early warning and intervention management system.

Data Analysis

In order to understand the efficacy of interventions for at-risk students, on a student-by-student level or by cohort, educators and school leaders should analyze data such as: the total number of interventions across a district; which interventions are resulting in students being on-track or off-track based upon progress monitoring data; and the average duration for students to reach an on-track status. In addition, it is important to have the ability to study the percentage of students that have reached their progress monitoring targets disaggregated by intervention at the district, school, and classroom levels; and the percentage of students that are in each tier of MTSS/NJTSS.

Having a system that allows for the flexibility of studying intervention efficacy is important for districts to study the outcomes of its interventions at the student, classroom, school or district levels.


An effective early warning and intervention management system serves as a problem-solving solution designed to document and monitor instruction and interventions within a multi-tiered system of supports for both academic, social, and emotional student needs. It serves as a tool to alert teachers and administrators of students who are at risk of failure. Furthermore, it is both adaptable and scalable to provide a comprehensive solution that allows educators to more effectively support student success through integrating key interventions into the curriculum framework.

Want to Learn More?

Join PCG, New Jersey special education expert, Matthew Korobkin, and national multi-tiered system of supports expert, Mollye Kiss, to discuss districtwide initiatives that enable teachers, I&RS teams, and school and district administrators to quickly identify students who may be at risk of academic failure or dropping out of school and monitor the effectiveness of associated instruction and intervention. Click here to register for this exclusive webinar!

Public Consulting Group, Inc. proudly offers the EDPlan Early Warning and Intervention Management System (EWS/MTSSTM).

This solution addresses the complexities of running a multi-tiered system of supports for both academics and behavior by providing data-driven planning in the areas of English/Language Arts, Mathematics, and Behavior. Contact Lauren English-Mezzino to learn more.

About Public Consulting Group

Public Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG) is a leading public sector solutions implementation and operations improvement firm that partners with health, education, and human services agencies to improve lives. Founded in 1986 and headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, PCG has over 2,000 professionals in more than 50 offices around the US, in Canada and in Europe. PCG’s Education practice offers consulting services and technology solutions that help schools, school districts, and state education agencies/ministries of education to promote student success, improve programs and processes, and optimize financial resources. To learn more, visit:


[i] Ahram, R., Fergus, E., Niguera, P. (2011). Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education: Case Studies of Suburban School Districts. Teachers College Record. 113 (10), 2233-2266.

[ii] New Jersey Task Force on Improving Special Education for Public School Students. (2015). <>

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