Closing the Achievement Gap: The Pursuit of Perfection
Our current academic achievement levels are just the tip of the iceberg. Educators are in a constant chase of perfection, as we seek to maximize students’ learning. The massive barrier to perfection is the evasive Achievement Gap, which continues to persist across generations. The most academically underperforming students are categorized as subgroups (African-American, Latino, Special Education and students in poverty). There is not one clear solution to deep-dive the iceberg, the solution will require a clear focus on establishing learning conditions and robust practices. The Achievement Gap can only narrow once schools make an effort to address the culture and climate conditions for learning, coupled with consistent student engagement practices. A two-pronged approach, such as this, can yield higher than average results for ALL students. Changing the culture and human behavior, for both teachers and students, is the critical first step. Below are feasible actions schools can take to help change the learning culture and close the achievement gap.
Let’s Go BIG!
Closing the Achievement Gap comes down to three essential culture and climate conditions:
1. B- Belonging- It can not be stated enough, school and classroom learning conditions have to be caring and inviting. The learners have to feel connected to the school and their teachers. Most schools that excel at this have a “family type” of relationship with the students and parents. Some schools believe that personalized relationships with students and families are “the make or break” aspects of their school culture. This does not mean that structure, organization and toughness are out of the window. In schools that close the achievement gap, most students demand that their teachers are tough on them when they are not performing up to the expectations; this, is when students know that the teachers care about them. This feeling of belonging is important because it leads students to personalize and engage with the academic content. When students feel like they belong in the organization(school), the levels of efficacy and learning expectations increase tremendously.
2. I-Intensity- Students believe that learning is more engaging when the learning ecosystem is focused and busy, in a meaningful way. In these focused classrooms, the teachers set the “minute-to-minute learning pace.” Time on task becomes a respected asset by the students. In these highly intense learning ecosystems, there is zero down-time and the learners often say “it’s so fun” and “time flies in that class.” Industriousness for learning becomes the norm, especially beyond the boundaries of the school walls .
3. G-Grit- failure at a task is part of the learning process. Teachers often provide various explanations of content when learners are confused or lack mastery of the content. Reteaching, in order to clarify students’ confusion, is a key aspect of resiliency and industriousness. Not giving up on complicated tasks and finding different ways to solve problems are essential skills in fortifying personal Grit.
Once the culture and climate conditions are established, consistent student practices must occur.
The Common Core State Standards are providing teachers with “what” specific sequence of content to teach. However, there is lack of clarity on “how” to implement the content standards, in order for learners to demonstrate mastery orientation. The critical “how” becomes the learning tasks the teachers ask students to demonstrate in action. Students must create performance-based, real world, solutions for current or unknown problems. The performance-based assessments are manifested in these six research-based learning strategies:
The 6-Pack: Deeper Learning Performance Based Assessment Skills
1. Interview and Research
2. Persuasive and Creative Writing
3. Point of View Debate
4. Digital Graphic Organizers
5. Multi-Media Presentations
6. Oral Communication and Speech