Reasons for Alternative Educational Placement
A student might require placement outside of a traditional public or private school for a number of reasons:
- To remediate skills (e.g., math, reading, chemistry)
- To remediate or replace courses
- Because of learning, psychological, behavioral, or medical issues
- Because of intensive extracurricular activity
- Skill Remediation
- Course Remediation & Replacement
- Learning, Psychological, Behavioral, & Medical Issues
Skill remediation can involve anything from an after school program supplementing the main school's efforts to withdrawal from the main school in favor of an alternative placement. In the first instance, the student's skill deficit slows but does not prohibit progress in a traditional classroom. A successful intervention at this level might only entail two to four hours per week outside of the classroom allowing for reteaching of missed concepts in an individualized manner. In the second instance, however, the deficit prohibits (or severely limits) progress and requires a more significant response. The student might need to withdraw from a class, multiple classes, or from the main school entirely.
While there are options ranging from after school programs to independent tutors to "homework mills", an alternative educational placement allows for a more sophisticated, targeted intervention personalized to the student's needs.
Course Remediation & Replacement
A high school student who fails or misses a required course must remediate the course in order to graduate. Options include re-enrollment, summer school, an online course, or an alternative educational placement. Re-enrollment, summer school, and online coursework might work for independent students, but the majority of students requiring course remediation and replacement are not independent students. These mainstream options ignore the variables of learning differences and instructional level. Re-enrollment, moreover, returns a student to the same course with the same obstacles to success further compounded by the social anxiety of being, for example, a sophomore in a freshman class.
An alternative educational placement can account for learning differences, and establish instructional level to ensure success. In such a setting, the student recovers skills and confidence, not just academic credit. Flexible scheduling minimizes the disruption in the student's program. A student needing to retake courses could do so during or after school, and does not need to wait until the end of the quarter, semester, or academic year. Programs often start at any point during the calendar year. A student who wants to improve a low passing grade can do so at some alternative schools.
Learning, Psychological, Behavioral, & Medical Issues
Complex issues often obscure student performance and prevent individuals from realizing their full potential. A student with learning differences, for example, might have trouble processing information or applying basic skills such as computation, writing, and reading in the classroom. If the differences are significant, common accommodations might prove insufficient to address the student's needs. Such a student underperforms because of poorly differentiated or inappropriate instruction, and becomes frustrated or disengaged. The end result is the same for the gifted student bored by repetition and deliberate instruction. Both students need an opportunity to study at their respective instructional levels. Effective personalization for some students might occur in a small classroom of peers, but optimal personalization necessitates one-to-one instruction. In addition to learning differences, students suffer from a variety of psychological, behavioral, and medical issues. A student plagued by anxiety and depression will hardly achieve at capacity in a traditional setting. Indeed, such a student's difficulties grow more acute in an environment that focuses the majority of its emphasis on socialization. Placing the student in a one-to-one or small group setting can be very effective options. A student who has difficulty self-regulating and interacting with peers will be distracted even overwhelmed by non-academic issues at school. Depending on severity, students might require anything from a one-to-one placement to a highly structured facility equipped for any number of behavioral contingencies. Various medical conditions render school unfeasible or uncomfortable at best for some students. Such students should have access to flexible scheduling and possibly on-site medical services.
An alternative educational placement can provide services exceeding those available in traditional settings. Dedicated programs exist for students with learning differences, and psychological, behavioral, and medical issues. Such programs can also be ideal for athletes, actors/actresses, ballerinas, and other individuals with flexible scheduling needs. The bulk of alternative schools and facilities serve one or more of the aforementioned student categories.
A Good Alternative Educational Placement
- Accepts mission appropriate students: Good programs only admit students they can serve and refer to professionals or other programs when a student's needs fall outside their expertise
- Collaborates with constituents: Staff eagerly interact with the family, professionals, staff from former schools or settings, and anyone else immediately involved to support the success of the student; staff see themselves as part of a system of resources available to families in need of services
- Respects and nurtures the student: This informs every aspect of the setting from teacher attitude to administrative policy
- Establishes skill levels via assessment: Programs that do not assess students at intake waste time attempting to discover student levels along the way
- Draws on professional recommendations (if available): Professional recommendations provide invaluable direction for student programs by outlining strengths, weaknesses, accommodations, and modifications
- Accommodates the student's level: This forms the basis of a solid intervention whether it is behavioral or academic: options that group students of various levels cannot adequately meet individual student needs
- Leverages a student's strengths and interests: The focus on a struggling student's education tends to be negative ("he can't", "she doesn't") but each student has intellectual strengths and interests: a sound program will use these to promote student success
- Allows staff to monitor and adjust daily: Robust programs have a well-defined structure that builds in daily monitoring but retains a degree of flexibility to adjust for emerging issues
- Includes multiple approaches and materials: All learners differ: an effective program respects this by allowing for alterations to delivery and content: staff should have the ability to implement from a range of resources and to innovate where necessary
- Communicates student progress: Staff share progress formally and informally with the student and the family: ideally, the student and teacher converse daily about progress, and a point of contact exists to address parent questions in a timely manner
- Deals frankly with issues: A student does not outgrow dyslexia or ADHD: a successful program teaches coping skills and self-awareness: beware of guarantees and simple gimmicks claiming to solve complex problems
- Recommends the next step: A good program makes recommendations to the family concerning the continuation or cessation of services after the initial enrollment, including referral to an appropriate professional or provider