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What are remedial programs?

By Julie Rawe

At a Glance

  • Remedial programs address learning gaps by reteaching basic skills.

  • They focus on core areas, like reading and math.

  • Remedial programs are open to all students, including those with disabilities.

Remedial programs are designed to close the gap between what students know and what they’re expected to know. They reteach core skills. Remedial programs are expanding in many places because so many kids faced learning challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Remedial programs for younger kids tend to focus on reading or math. Programs for older kids may include other areas like science and social studies. They offer extra support to help students catch up to their peers. And they’re open to all students, including those with disabilities.

The most effective programs are taught by teachers who have special training. They tend to have fewer students than a regular classroom. This can help them give each student more attention and support.

These programs tend to be most helpful to students with gaps in their learning because of frequent absences or trouble with focus. But some students may not make a lot of progress in remedial programs. This could be a sign of a learning disability. Students with disabilities may need more specialized instruction to thrive in school.

Learn more about how remedial programs work and how to spot an effective program.

Dive deeper

Not the same thing as special education

Remedial programs are not the same thing as . Remedial instruction goes back and reteaches what has already been taught. Different students may need this for different reasons. Some students have disabilities. Some don’t. 

Unlike remedial programs, special education is only for students with disabilities. It’s tailored for each student, and it’s ongoing. Not all struggling students qualify for this kind of one-on-one support. 

Many schools use a framework called (RTI) to help decide who needs special education. Learn more about RTI .

COVID-19 and remedial education

Many schools are using remedial education to help make up for learning time that was lost during the coronavirus pandemic. These schools are going back and reteaching what students should have mastered in the past. (This is called remediation.)

Some schools are trying to do more than just address learning gaps. They’re trying to accelerate kids to get them ready for new learning. No matter which approach schools take (remediation or acceleration), one thing is sure to help: The federal government has given states and local school districts a big funding boost to address the impact of lost learning time.

See how one expert is handling concerns about her son’s learning loss during COVID .

Summer remedial programs

Many schools offer remedial support as it’s needed throughout the year. But summer can be a time to dive deeper for kids who need more support. Summer remedial programs can be especially helpful for kids who switched schools during the school year or who were absent a lot.

Kids who learn and think differently may need more support than what is typically provided in a remedial program. This is especially true if the remedial classes teach material in the same way it was taught during the school year.

Learn more about summer learning programs for kids who learn and think differently .

Third-grade retention laws

Many families may hear about remedial programs when their kids are in third grade. That’s because schools see this as an important year for reading skills. Kids who aren’t reading at grade level in third grade may have an even tougher time catching up later on. 

To close this skills gap, some states require third graders to reach certain reading benchmarks or be held back. These policies are often called third-grade retention laws.

While some states are changing how reading is taught, others use remedial programs to close the reading gap. 

Learn more about third-grade retention laws .

Questions to ask about remedial programs

Effective remedial programs are taught by professional teachers who have had special training. This is important for all kids, but especially for those who learn and think differently. 

Here are questions to ask the school about teacher training and other key aspects of a remedial program:

  • Is the program taught by a professional teacher who’s had special training?

  • Is the program based on research? Does it use proven teaching methods?

  • Is the program taught step-by-step without skipping over content?

  • Is the material taught in a different way than it was taught the first time around?

  • Does the program teach students in small groups to give more individual attention?

  • Does the program offer regular reviews and exercises to reinforce learning and practice applying new knowledge?

  • Does the program include a way to assess what each student has learned and whether they’re ready to move ahead? Can the pacing be adjusted for each student?

  • Do students get to choose whether to attend in person or remotely? 

Explore conversation starters to help families talk to teachers about school supports and services.

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