The Achievement Gap is the difference in student achievement, as measured by the tests on our state academic standards, between certain groups of students and other groups of students or the “average” student score. Sometimes these gaps can be very significant, as much a 30+ percentage points. Over the years, the three groups of students who show the greatest gaps as compared to their peers are students who live in poverty (qualify for reduced price meals in school), students who are English Language Learners (students whose native language is not English and English is usually not the language used at home), and Foster Youth (students whose natural family situation has deteriorated so much that they are placed with non-family members to care for. Over the past 10 years, there has been steady progress in narrowing this Achievement Gap in our county, but it is certainly still present and is of highest priority to address. Fortunately, we know there are a few actions that work to narrow this gap. I’ll briefly review them this morning. As might be expected, these are all things that depend on a skilled teacher.
Even though students vary in their preparedness to master academic content, effective teachers do not lower their expectations for some students and have higher expectations for others. We all know that when someone else expects us to perform, that is a powerful motivator to indeed try to meet this mark. There is a classic study done where students of equal ability are compared, with one group having a teacher who didn’t expect much and another who simply expected more. The students in the class with high expectations indeed did achieve more than the other group. The study has been called “Pygmalion in the Classroom”, a takeoff on the classic story by George Bernard Shaw that was the basis of “My Fair Lady”. Assistance must be given at the earliest signs of troubles. This applies not only to early intervention in terms of age (i.e. pre-school) but also within a classroom. It is not sufficient for a teacher to think that a student will just “catch up” later, or simply needs to be assigned more work. A different approach and extra help early will often produce results.
With the tools now available to teachers to keep constant track of student progress electronically, adjustments and changes can be made quickly and not have to wait for getting the results of student work. This allows adjustments to made very efficiently and much more on target. It is essential that our teachers have access to high quality and regular training and professional development in order for them to have the best tools and skills available to them. The core of effective professional development is classroom observation by skilled observers and then discussion with the teacher about what happened. This is the “coaching” and assistance model and not the evaluation model that is often talked about.