What do principals and teachers need to close the achievement gap?
We’ve known for decades that our country’s educational system suffers from many achievement gaps among various student populations. For example, white students earn higher average test scores than black students. We can also identify achievement gaps based on other indicators including developmental needs, geographic area, gender, and more. How can we move the needle toward more equitable outcomes for all students?
At the Center for Student Achievement Solutions, we’re constantly reviewing research on effective educational strategies, because we believe students from every background deserve the opportunity to pursue meaningful careers after graduation. We consistently find these three components are vital for implementing teaching practices which lead to better overall academic performance:
- Skills and teaching strategieslegitimized by evidence-based research
- High-quality trainingfor educators at every level to learn these strategies
- Coaching supportto help educators successfully implement new strategies
Let’s break down each of these components further to understand their importance better.
Skills and teaching strategies legitimized by evidence-based research
As mentioned before, America has recognized for decades that our educational system needs work. In 1965, Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which at the time was the most far-reaching legislation ever passed in an attempt to support what Lyndon B. Johnson called the “War on Poverty.” In 2002, the programs established by ESEA were reauthorized in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Both pieces of legislation encouraged educators to implement “research-based” solutions to the achievement gaps in the classroom.
However, in 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which instead encourages the use of “evidence-based” solutions. The shifted focus toward evidence-based intervention methods requires educators to use teaching strategies which have achieved demonstrably positive results in reducing the opportunity gap, as opposed to using strategies which theoretically seem like they should lead to positive results.
High-quality training for educators at every level to learn these strategies
Even if educators are highly motivated to eliminate the achievement gap in their classes, they can’t create change without access to training in evidence-based strategies. Research reviews conducted by the Learning Policy Institute and the National College for School Leadership have concluded that the most effective training programs include:
- A positive, constructive working environment — School leadership and overall workplace culture should support continual improvements.
- Exploration of the rationale behind new teaching strategies — How do we know these new strategies will work better than our current methods?
- Real life application — How will this strategy look when applied to a specific part of the curriculum?
- Immersive and interactive learning — New concepts are better understood when teachers walk through the activities students will actually experience under the new teaching strategies. Additionally, teachers should be able to practice using their new skills throughout the training process.
Coaching support to help educators successfully implement new strategies
High-quality training programs can excite and educate teachers about useful teaching strategies. However, implementing these strategies in the classroom can prove to be difficult once educators are juggling their other work responsibilities at the same time. Educators may also struggle to recall all details learned during their training and may lose confidence without regular follow-up and support.
The Learning Policy Institute and the National College for School Leadership have found that new teaching strategies are best implemented with the support of expert coaches. Their research reviews demonstrate the following benefits coaches bring to the table:
- Broader context through models — Professional teaching coaches work with many educational institutions and can share real-life case studies of various teaching strategies implemented in various scenarios. Through these models, educators can see lesson plans, student work, and general feedback from others who have used new teaching skills.
- One-on-one attention — Coaches can provide individual feedback and guidance as teachers work to implement new skills in the classroom. The National College for School Leadership has found that teachers with individual coaching “practiced new strategies more often and with greater skill than uncoached educators with identical initial training.”
- Better understanding — As coaches continue to work with educators, answer questions, and provide clarification, teachers are able to better understand new teaching strategies. Enhanced comprehension helps teachers prepare their students for changes in the classroom.
- Facilitated reflection exercises — Coaches help educators reflect upon their experiences so they can adapt the concepts they learned in training to fit their real-life situations.
- Extended support — Depending on the complexity of new teaching strategies, schools may not recognize the full effects of training until months or even years later. Coaches offer regular check-ins to ensure sustained progress.
How is your school addressing the achievement gap?
What evidence-based teaching strategies and skills are your teachers bringing to their classrooms? Do you feel like your school or district is making enough progress in creating equitable opportunities for all of your students?
At CSAS, our experts can come alongside your administration to provide high-quality training and coaching which will effectively close the achievement gap. Learn more about our services on our website, or schedule a free consultation phone call with us to talk about how we can improve your educational excellence.
Author: Chandra Williams, Ed.D. has worked in various senior leadership positions such as the state director of curriculum and instruction, chief academic officer, director of second opportunity schools, school turnaround principal, special education teacher, and clinical social worker.
The Center For Student Achievement Solutions provides technical assistance, professional development, and coaching support to create schools and classroom environments that are equitable and inclusive.