8 Ways to Close the Achievement Gap in Schools

We’ve received an increasing number of requests from our K-12 clients centering on disparities in student academic achievement.  As a result, our K-12 practice recently released a report addressing exactly how school districts can help close the well documented achievement gap for underserved students. Our experts found eight types of interventions that schools can use to increase student achievement spanning three key areas: the classroom, the school, and the greater community.

In the Classroom:

  1. Extended learning Opportunities: These include lengthening the school day or school year, or establishing after‐school, before‐school, intersession and summer programs. These opportunities can help reach students that are underserved by regular school-time programs and reduce summer learning loss, which is a huge contributor to the learning achievement gap.
  2. Project-Based Learning: This approach emphasizes the application of knowledge rather than fact recall. For example, students might learn about force, velocity, acceleration and Newton’s laws while exploring the answer to the question “Why should I wear a helmet when I ride my bike?” Studies show that students who learn this way retain content longer and have a more nuanced understanding of the subjects.
  3. Career and Technical Education (CTE): These programs incorporate a variety of practical skills integrated with traditional classroom instruction to prepare students and adults for focused career paths.

In the School:

  1. Teacher Incentive Funding: This concept aims to improve student achievement by increasing teacher and principal effectiveness through compensation commensurate with student achievement. This approach also tries to increase the number of effective teachers in poor, minority and disadvantaged classrooms in hard-to-staff subjects.
  2. Curriculum Mapping: This process helps teachers to review the curriculum more broadly to ensure each student is being taught core concepts at the right time in their education experience. A study of improved Ohio school districts found that curriculum mapping was viewed as the single most important factor in improving academic performance.

Across the Community:

  1. Community Building Programs: Research shows that quality partnerships between schools and their communities can benefit both the children and the community. Examples of programs include collaborative programs with medical, social services and community agencies or supporting students through mentorship and tutoring programs.
  2. Parental Involvement Programs: Our research found that there is a consensus in the education community that parental involvement is extremely important to a child’s academic achievement. One example of a successful parental involvement program is the California-based Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) Parent Engagement Education Program – a free nine-week training course where parents learn to create an educational environment at home and receive concrete tips and tactics on how they can maximize the academic success of their children.
  3. Cultural Awareness Programs: The National Education Association (NEA) reports that the cultural gap between students and their teachers can be a factor in students’ academic performance. Our research indicated that school systems who value diversity, are culturally self-aware, understand the dynamics of cultural interaction and have cultural knowledge can help close this gap.

Our research indicates that an effective process to close achievement gaps needs to be nuanced, address both academic and environmental factors and be tailored to a specific school’s needs. Districts should first examine data regarding the achievement levels of its students and assess its real achievement gap before deciding on a customized combination of these eight initiatives that best addresses their unique challenges.

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