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5 Steps to Closing the Achievement Gap

Posted by Deanna Zaucha on March 23, 2016

While there are many theories on how the achievement gap in K-12 education began to widen, the truth is it still exists and greatly affects district leaders and educators in helping their schools grow and succeed today.

For those who are new to the education scene, the achievement gap “refers to any significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between different groups of students.” It is particularly evident in grade point average, standardized test scores, dropout rates, and college enrollment or completion rates in the United States. Typically, students who experience achievement gaps include: racial and ethnic minorities, English language learners, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families.

To overcome this disparity in achievement, a district must effectively build a plan to continuously improve and show growth across their schools.


Approaching an improvement plan in steps will allow for smoother implementation, and makes goals seem more attainable. Leaders can measure performance and monitor growth throughout the process. If not approached in increments, the big picture can seem overwhelming.

Therefore, before entering testing season, you’ll want to implement a plan to help your school or district succeed. For many schools, this time has come and gone. Instead, you are reaching the period immediately following testing and starting to ask: how can I prepare for the following year?

Luckily, both time periods demand a strategic action plan that will map out where your achievement gaps are and what steps you need to take to close those gaps. Here are the five steps to closing the achievement gap:

1. Understand and Use High Stakes Testing Data
Your schools already have valuable resources to apply to your strategic plan for growth. Collecting these resources (last year’s test scores, passing vs. failing percentages, lesson plans, etc.) and organizing them in data meetings, can help you find emerging achievement trends in your schools. For schools taking ASPIRE, you can start to review this data as early as July to schedule into summer workshops. Diving into this data and understanding these trends, will help your schools recognize gaps to address throughout the year.

2. Align Instructional Resources
Once you’ve recognized these gaps, you can pace your upcoming year around these targeted initiatives in late spring or early summer. The best way to pace your year is to unpack the standards and then align them with the gaps you identified in the first step. If you try to incentivize teachers to keep to these pacing guides, they can exponentially help to close the gaps during the school year. For example, the teacher with the highest percentage of passing students gets an extra day off during the year to use for leisure, professional development, or lesson planning. Every school is different, so be sure to take an inventory of your resources (time, devices, rewards) before starting this process. Starting the year by working on a vertical plan to align all grades with your schools’ goals can assist in understanding each level’s resources.

3. Think on Different Levels in Math, Reading, Science, Social Studies
While some may say they excel in just reading or math alone, educators know that a foundation in the critical subjects of math, reading, science, and social studies will positively affect the success of one looking to excel in just one particular subject. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and Bloom’s Taxonomy are two specific ways schools can ensure this cognitive excellence expected of their students. Both models group tasks to reflect a level of rigor or depth of knowledge to help students complete a task. For example, for one standardized science question, a student may have to read a prompt and execute a mathematical formula in order to reach the answer. Then they may have to write reasoning on how they reached their conclusion. It’s important for district leaders to assess what level of thinking is being used in the majority of their classrooms. To ensure teachers understand the relation between different levels of thinking and high stakes assessments, incorporate this methodology into summer plans for workshops and new employee orientations.

4. Assess Constructed Responses
Agreeing on the creation and instruction of how students should answer constructed responses (similar to the science question proposed in the last step) is one of the biggest obstacles for districts. Too few schools are quick to think that this is the best place to introduce professional development days. Constructive response PD days could help implement modeling, rubrics, and collaborative scoring. These resources for instruction can be extremely helpful in earning the constructed response points you may have missed on last year’s assessments.

5. Use Benchmark and Formative Assessments to Drive Instruction
Typically, teachers are using their textbooks, and textbook-provided assessments to drive instruction. These textbooks are not always aligned to their standards, nor are they aligned to their high stakes tests. Many teachers are privy to this traditional methodology of teaching and not adapting to the current needs of the classroom. But scheduling benchmark and formative assessments throughout the year and using that data to help guide pacing, unpack the standards, and show the growth between assessments will motivate students leading up to (and through) high stakes testing.

Creating an action plan for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year allows you to stay organized when monitoring your progress of what you are covering throughout the year, and stay flexible when needing to adjust implementation.

If you are a bit overwhelmed, never fear—Chalkable is here to help. Our coaches have the time to research best practices, and have the expertise to deliver content to an array of stakeholders within a district to assist in making your growth goal a reality.

Want our help? Learn more about Chalkable Professional Learning Services and download our worksheet to individually apply the five steps to closing the achievement gap in your district!

Download 5 Steps to Closing the Achievement Gap Worksheet

Topics: Education Trends, Professional Development, K-12 Education, Education Technology

Deanna Zaucha

Written by Deanna Zaucha

Deanna Zaucha is the Content Marketing Specialist at Chalkable, and also manages their social media presence. In her free time, she can be found on the dance floor, or on her iPhone keeping up with the latest trends in education, marketing, and technology. Read more from Deanna on Twitter.