Understanding the Unique Needs of Title I Students

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With more focus than ever on reaching proficiency levels on state achievement tests, schools are using Title I funds to help students in need attain academic goals. Before creating and implementing programs, it is important to understand what exactly Title I is and how it can be used. Just as important, however, is developing an understanding of the unique needs of Title I students in order to maximize success.

What is Title I?

Title I is a federally funded program for school districts that is designed to improve academic achievement of disadvantaged students. Each year, the U.S. government provides formula-based grants (currently up to approximately $15 billion in total) to state educational agencies. The grants, which are based on the number or percentage of students coming from low-income families, are then funneled to the district level. 

The goal of Title I is to provide a fair and equal opportunity for disadvantaged students to access high-quality education, and to attain proficiency level on state achievement tests. Individual schools are able to determine how best to use funds to help students meet challenging state standards for performance. Schools with a 40% or higher population of low-income students may use the funds for school-wide programs designed to benefit all students by combining funds with other state and federal money to implement programming. Schools that qualify for Title I assistance but have a lower rate of low-income students can use funds for targeted assistance programs aimed specifically at improving the academic achievement of designated students.

Many districts use the funds to strengthen core academic programs using research-based resources and strategies, or to increase parental involvement in achievement. Funds can also be put toward attracting and training high quality teachers. Districts can utilize comprehensive needs assessments to identify areas of strength and weakness in the specified student population, whether schoolwide or targeted, and then take steps to implement reform strategies to improve access to quality instruction and to support students in achieving proficiency.

Who are the students behind Title I?

Students driving the need for Title I funds come from low-income families. Other descriptive terms include students in poverty, students of low socioeconomic status (low SES), and students who are eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunch. These students require additional support due to their unique needs and characteristics, as well as the challenges they encounter both at home and in school.

Students from low SES backgrounds often face situations at home that make it difficult, if not impossible, to focus on personal achievement while in school. They may not have enough food to eat or a stable place to live, and they may even be homeless. The lack of a safe and predictable environment can have a serious impact on the overall physical and emotional health of a child as he or she grows up. These and other outside factors affect academic and cognitive performance in school, as well as emotional engagement and in-school behavior.

Many students from low-income backgrounds, especially high school students, have to work in order to help support their families financially. Likewise, many parents work multiple jobs to make ends meet, severely affecting the amount of time they are able to dedicate toward helping their children with homework. Older students are often tasked with caring for younger siblings while their parents are at work, adding additional time constraints to their studies and reducing parental involvement for students of all ages. A lack of financial resources may result in fewer cognitive stimulating resources at home, such as books, which can impact how prepared students are to enter elementary school and advance through the early years of education.


How to help Title I students succeed

Given this information, there are specific things that have been proven to help these students succeed:

  • Take time to understand the issues that students from low SES backgrounds face, and treat them with respect.

  • Offer a degree of flexibility (where appropriate).

  • Provide differentiated instruction that is individualized and personalized to these students' unique needs.

  • Explore ways to teach in a manner that motivates the students and allows for frequent success opportunities. This may include providing a choice of materials and using a variety of teaching methods and approaches.

Personalized instruction works well because it allows teachers the ability to work within the capabilities of each student and to address their needs in a manner that will promote success.

As educators, we want the best for our students, and we recognize that all students learn differently. By understanding the unique needs of Title I students, we are able to identify and help overcome the challenges and issues these students face. Having the right mindset, accessing the tools to do the job, and using Title I funds to implement needs-specific programming are necessary requirements for ensuring academic success in the classroom and on state achievement tests.  

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