Posted by & filed under Child Development, Human Development, Intervention: Children and Adolescents, Legal Ethical Issues.

Description: You have no doubt heard the term “at-risk” used to refer to groups of individuals (perhaps children from low SES backgrounds or children with parents coping with mental illness. Think about the appropriateness of the general use of that term. What could be problematic about referring to groups or worse to individual students as “at-risk students?” Would it or should it make a difference if you were able to point at (and address) the things that are driving up the “risk levels”? What if being “at-risk” was simply applied to those who are members of particular groups when the actual or even likely causes of the “risk” are not known and therefore not directly addressable? And what if those groups were distinguished from others by racial or ethnic lines. What about the use of the term them? Think about the implications of these questions and then reads the article linked below for a detailed argument for a rethinking of our use of the term “at-risk.”

Source: Why it is wrong to label students ‘at-risk’, Ivory A. Toldson, The Conversation.

Date: January 23, 2019

Photo Credit: Diego Cervo/

Article Link:

So, is the distinction between practical (causally attributable and addressable) and post-poor outcomes applications to situations where causes are unknown, unclear or, at least out of the control of the students themselves, their parents or their teachers? As well, does the difference between “more resources for at-risk students” and “more resources to reduce risk factors for students” make sense? It is important to understand that “risk” is NOT a personal attribute but, rather, a probabilistic statement about possible outcomes that may not have any obvious links to specifiable (and fixable) causal factors.  Psychology and especially education has been talking about issues of labeling for years and the article’s author’s suggestion that we find ways to have broader discussion n about groups and communities that routinely include consideration of community assets – such as hope and resilience is timely and is a direction we should really commit to pursuing!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does it mean to say that a student or group of students are “at-risk”?
  2. What are some of the uses and the disadvantages of using the term “at-risk”?
  3. How should we talk about, think about, and/or address the fact that “risk” is usually a statement about groups or situations while outcomes in school usually apply to and potentially stigmatize individuals?

References (Read Further):

Placier, M. L. (1993). The semantics of state policy making: The case of “at risk”. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 15(4), 380-395.

Brown, J. H., & D’Emidio Caston, M. (1995). On becoming” at risk” through drug education: How symbolic policies and their practices affect students. Evaluation review, 19(4), 451-491.

Barnett, K. (2015, March). The At-Risk Student’s Journey with Online Course Credit; Looking at Perceptions of Care and Their Lived Experience. In Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 1454-1462). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Toldson, Ivory A. (2019) No BS (Bad Stats) Black People Need People Who Believe in Black People Enough Not to Believe Every Bad Thing They Hear about Black People, Personal/Public Scholarship, Volume 4,