How do we measure our students’ success? Grades? Standardized test scores? Dropout rates? Educational attainment level?
Over the years, mandates have been put in place, guiding student’s educational paths, as well as providing the objectives for teachers’ lesson plans. One such mandate created educational standards. Think of these as learning goals for all students based upon their grade level. The goals are not a curriculum; rather, they provide an end goal of what students should know and be able to do by the end of a grade level. The Common Core is an example of educational standards.
So with standards, comes standardized testing. With standardized testing, comes… well, a whole number of things. But let’s save that discussion for another time.
While these are all mechanisms for determining success, they also measure weaknesses. What all of these assessments demonstrate is an increasing achievement gap among students.
When the teachers of yesteryear uttered the phrase “achievement gap”, they were typically referring to the disparity in academic performance between black and white students.
Today’s educators know that this term encompasses so many additional groups of students.
-Racial and ethnic minorities
-English Language Learners
-Students with Disabilities (Special Education students)
-Boys and girls
-Students from low-income families
Achievement disparities are often attributed to issues educators have little to no control over such as...
Additionally, there are many more subtle influences that affect achievement gaps as well…
-Not to mention, students who have experienced traumatic events, extended absences, and homelessness, all of which students can experience over the course of just one school year.
So where do we stand today?
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, provides a bi-annual review on how the United States’ students are performing in schools. In 2017, NAEP reported few score changes across student groups nationally, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities.
Additionally, while the report noted few changes in 2017 when compared to 2015 results for score gaps between racial/ethnic groups, there has been some racial/ethnic score gaps change compared to the early 1990s. For example, the achievement gap between whites and blacks narrowed in grade 4 mathematics and reading compared to the first assessment years. the achievement gap between whites and hispanics also narrowed from 1992 to 2017 in grade 8 reading.
Some of the successes in the data can be contributed to some common reforms that schools have implemented such as inclusion, reducing class size, increasing early-childhood programs, raising academic standards, recruiting quality teachers provided to poor and minority students, and career- and college-readiness skills have been offered for all students.
When reviewing the research, experts seem to agree on THREE main criteria to close the achievement gap:
We already have the standards in place, and there is no denying that they are high! However, I think our focus here needs to be on setting High Standards for our subgroups.
Our subgroup students who can access the general education curriculum with supports and/or modifications have these same High Standards set for them. And they can do it! What they need is support.
They need support in the form of strategies and modifications to the general education curriculum, and this is where our schools are lacking. Our special educators are our strategists! Let’s employ these instructors to teach our subgroups strategies for independently accessing the general education curriculum. These strategies should enable them to be independent, even in spite of a learning disability.
ALL students must be guided to achieve the highest of his/her potential. This means that school systems must have a Challenging Curriculum.
A Challenging Curriculum is an inclusive set of intentionally aligned clear learning goals with correlating assessments, organized in a sequential manner for studying and learning.
Progress monitoring is an important component of a Challenging Curriculum. Progress monitoring can help identify lagging skills to be targeted in small group or direct instruction. By strengthening lagging skills, students can continue to make effective progress toward achieving grade level standards.
Our strategists (AKA special education teachers) can also create modified curriculums to support our subgroups! With some common planning time and professional development training, our special educators could create modifications to our current curriculums in order to maintain High Standards for ALL students!
Some students will need educators’ support with a Challenging Curriculum. They may need supports to help them strengthen their lagging skills, gain unlearned standards, and achieve grade level standards all at the same time in order to close the achievement gap. It is possible! We just need to support them.
Educators are important.
Educators educate our future. Educators perform a wide variety of tasks on a daily basis. But sometimes just by building relationships with students, educators are able to single-handedly close the achievement gap. And even if an educator can do that for one student, he/she has achieved success
While the data showed improvements, we only made slight gains.
We still have a mountain to climb, but once we get to the top, the hard part will be behind us - we will just, then, need to close the gap by building the bridge to the other mountain.
~ By Miss Rae
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), various years, 1990–2017 Mathematics and Reading Assessments.
Hi! I'm Miss Rae! I'm a Special Education Coordinator with a passion for creating research-based resources for DiVeRSe learners.