When the term gap closure first came on the radar in a big way this summer, responses ranged from: “Show me the data” to “Gap is closing…where will I buy my jeans?” It was a semi-foreign concept to many educators because overall achievement and growth have always been our aim—not who is out performing whom or by how much.
The difficult thing to grasp with gap closures is that it’s not just about student achievement or growth; it’s about subgroups of underperforming students needing to outpace their proficient peers in order to decrease the gap. Let me say that in another way: you have to make your newly planted corn grow faster than the corn that is already 3 feet high, AND they both have to produce ears by the end of the growing season.
This seems daunting at first glance…well, actually on the second and third glance it’s still pretty daunting. I like to be proactive when I feel I’m incompetent in an area, so I started contacting schools and systems that had great results this past year. However, the responses left me even more perplexed because they varied from, “We had seven different remediation programs in place,” to “Honestly, we were not focusing on gap closure, so we have no idea how we did it. It just happened.”
My next step was researching national trends and contacting “authorities” on the subject outside the state. I now have an entire flash drive of more than 1,000 ways to close achievement gaps. All are different and valid in their own right, but none offer a definitive approach.
After weeks of internal, external, academic, pedagogical, and even spiritual reflection, I have come to one conclusion: there is no silver bullet for gap closures. I heard a phrase used at SCORE’s Rural Network Common Core Convening this summer: “There isn’t a silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot.” This is the most important statement I will make in this blog: every single school is different, so there will NOT be a single solution that fits every school. However, here are the buckshot solutions I have gleaned from my pursuit:
- Remediation: The real teaching is done in the remediation. The quality of a teacher is in their ability to re-teach and know when they need to. When you find a gap, you will also find remediation waiting for you there.
- Fidelity to your program: pick a school-wide plan and stick with it. The first few months are the most difficult. More often it’s the commitment of the school to a program than the quality of a program that gets results.
- Formative instructional practices: FIP is the most commonly used method in proficient schools. It’s an inclusive approach because it doesn’t just focus on gap subgroups but also pushes high achievers as well.
- Quality professional development: sometimes educators need remediation as much or more than our students.
- Common Core State Standards: CCSS are more specific, therefore, teachers can identify weak areas in student learning and remediate without feeling as much urgency to move on in order to cover dozens of standards. CCSS are about teaching thinking skills, not just teaching to a test.
There is not a one size fits all solution to the gap closure issue, and maybe that is what is disconcerting for many educators. However, the positive side to this is that it shows we are not standardizing our students, as many would argue. The gap closure issue shows that our schools and students are still very much unique, and the solutions will be as well. We must implement what works for each student.