Years of research have shown that transient students suffer from lower achievement,
more behavior problems, and issues with engagement – with every issue worsening each
time a student switches schools. At the same time, high rates of transience in elementary
schools can disrupt classroom environments and lessen learning for all students. Yet the
rates of highly mobile students are increasing, especially in urban areas and suburban
edge cities, where one out of five third graders has moved twice since beginning
According to research conducted by Donna Sanderson and published in Education,
students who switch elementary schools often display gaps in their education, negative
attitudes toward school, and weak basic skills – three issues that not only hold back the
students themselves, but also take time from others in the classroom.
Highly transient students can be a challenge for the administration and teachers alike;
however, there are some steps that can ease the transition for new students while at the
same time increasing transient student achievement.
Get their history. Transient students often lack thorough school records – records
that could include information regarding learning disabilities, reading and math
levels, behavioral problems, and even important medical issues. Without this
educational history, it is difficult to know each child’s needs or how each child
will affect his or her new classroom. Information from parents will be an
invaluable resource when the child enrolls, and short assessment tests can help
Give them a student buddy. Assigning a learning partner to a new transient
student can combat both the academic and behavioral challenges that these new
students face. Buddies help can fill in some learning gaps that stall overall
classroom learning while also helping the student understand and assimilate into
the social aspects of the classroom. At the same time, teaching a new student will
help reinforce learning for the other buddy.
Use other human resources. In addition to a student buddy, utilize other helpers
in the school – such as student teachers, classroom aides, social workers, guidance
counselors, and therapists. Extra individual attention is key to engaging these
transient students, who often feel that getting to know individuals or forming
attachments may lead to heartache during the next move – and individual
attention can help pinpoint the specific leaning gaps and underlying behavior
issues that may be overlooked in a general classroom setting.
Pay attention to classroom organization and climate. It is easier for transient
students to disengage if they are at the back of the room, or if they are unfamiliar
with the classroom’s schedule, rituals, and rules. Place transient students near to
the teacher and mix classroom instruction with group seating and group learning.
If highly mobile students feel that they are part of the classroom physically, they
are more likely to feel welcomed, assimilate, and ultimately achieve.