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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: Leaving No Child Behind


Can you motivate an underachieving regular education student to graduate?


Something new was taking place at the largest middle school in Delaware for the 1999–2000 school year, and none of us knew quite what to think about it, much less how it would turn out.

My teaching assignment was to pilot a program for twenty seventh graders who had been retained at least two times; none had documented learning disabilities. I was told that I would be the reading and language arts teacher (meaning they were with me two hours per day); I would have an extra planning period to use for tutoring the students as well as for arranging for intervention services needed outside the classroom setting. I was also told I would have the support of the at-risk coordinator and two school-based counselors. I was assigned to an interdisciplinary team that would provide the math, science, and social studies instruction.

The students were told that if they made the 3.25 honor roll for the first and second marking periods, they would be promoted to grade eight at midyear. They were also told that if they continued to meet the honor-roll criteria for the remaining marking periods and passed the state’s assessment (DSTP) in math and reading (per new state law), they would be allowed to attend high school in the fall as freshmen.

My students were highly motivated by the opportunity to erase one year of failure and were also highly suspicious of the deal they were making with the school. At no time did any student indicate doubt that he or she could meet these goals for promotion. This last statement is worth repeating. Of the twenty students who began the program, seventeen remained as students in our school and sixteen advanced to high school in the fall of 2000. Only one failed to meet the promotion criteria.

The program suffered the effects of changing administrations and ceased to exist as it was piloted. A couple of years later, a student from the program came to see me. She asked, “Why aren’t they doing it any more? What will happen to kids like me?” I knew from her concerned tone and thoughtful question that there was a population in our school, probably in most schools, that needed our attention. I also knew that unless I documented what happened that year, the benefit of our experience would be lost forever. Sixteen of seventeen students graduated to ninth grade by meeting the goals of the pilot program. And 85% of those students graduated from high school.

Though not quantifiable, I offer this advice to teachers of underachievers: Love them. Respect them. Set high standards and show them every minute that you believe they can meet those standards…and be prepared to go the extra mile to show you mean it. You won’t be the only one giving a test.


  • Instead of expecting high schools to make up for lost time, schools need to establish initiatives that support underachievers in middle schools.
  • Policy makers should look at individual growth on a variety of measures as the best indicator of how well we are serving children, instead of grouping them in a “cell” that has to meet a goal.
  • Policy makers should study the effects of mobility; more needs to be learned about the transient nature of our underachieving population in the context of assessment scores for accountability and instruction.
  • Middle schools need to do more to prepare students for the academic, social, and emotional demands of high school.

Full Study
Coming Soon!

Greer Stangl

7th Grade
Social Studies
Milford Middle School, Milford

TNLI Affiliate:

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute--Delaware, please e-mail Michael Rasmussen.



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