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Indiana's Education Roundtable

Eliminating Achievement Gaps Eliminating Achievement Gaps

The achievement gap that separates low-income and minority students from their peers is unacceptable. Data shows that gaps in achievement exist at every level in our education system – from the early years through college completion. Research shows that these gaps can be overcome.

Regardless of socioeconomic status or family background, students succeed if they have a series of several good teachers, and they learn far more and fail less often in rigorous courses than they do in low-level remedial courses. Studies demonstrate that poor and minority students will achieve at the same high levels as other students if they are taught to those levels. A clear relationship exists between low standards, low-level curriculum, under-educated teachers, and poor results.

While we know that students can handle rigorous curriculum and should be given that opportunity, not all students learn in the same ways and on the same schedule. Some students need more time, extra support, and differentiated instructional methods in order to reach high standards. Policies and programs must be in place to meet these needs.

Schools and districts across the state and country that are eliminating gaps in achievement share four key characteristics:

  • Focus – clear and consistent goals, strategies, and leadership;
  • Rigorous curriculum – clearly defined high expectations of what students should be learning and when it should be learned;
  • Good teaching; and
  • Necessary interventions.

Studies document a wide gap between lower- and higher- income children before they enter Kindergarten. When children begin school behind, they tend to fall further and further behind. High-quality early childhood education can help close this gap. The school readiness skills gained in early childhood go well beyond the transition to Kindergarten. They provide the foundational skills for the child’s success in life.

The Business Roundtable (BRT), a national group of chief executives, is calling on state and federal governments to focus on ensuring children enter school ready and able to succeed by rethinking the way early-childhood education and funding is provided. The BRT supports early intervention as the way to narrow the gap in achievement between students from lower- and higher-income families. High-quality early care and learning experiences have been proven to have positive effects on the intellectual and language skills of children and help develop basic cognitive skills (language and math) and classroom behavioral skills (attention, sociability, peer relations, and self-management). These skills are critical to later academic performance and school success.

Eliminating the achievement gap in Indiana does not mean lowering the achievement of top performers. Strategies designed to monitor student performance at key transition points (elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to higher education) and challenge Indiana’s highest performing students to reach their full potential are identified in the Ensuring College and Workforce Success section of this plan.

Addressing the achievement gap that separates special education students from other students also is important. In order to understand and work to close this gap between special education and the general population, data need to be disaggregated by disability type with strategies implemented as appropriate.

Next Steps to Improve Student Achievement:

  1. Equip school leaders, teachers, and parents with data and research to dispel achievement gap myths and shed light on the damaging practice of expecting less of poor and minority students.
  2. Invest in early learning, school readiness, and reading as outlined in Early Learning and School Readiness.
  3. Involve families as partners in creating programs and policies to close the achievement gap.
    • Expand support services for low performing students and their families through collaborative efforts to locate mental health, health and nutrition, and community support networks within the school.

  4. Provide additional technical assistance, direction, and financial support to schools serving high numbers of students not meeting state academic standards.
    • Establish best practice consulting teams, including high quality reading and math coaches, to assist schools with high numbers of low-performing students.
    • Require these schools to adopt a consistent curriculum and instructional sequence across all grades and schools within a school district to address the effects mobility has on student achievement.
    • Provide and require regular diagnostic assessments.
    • Dramatically reduce class size for low-performing students.

  5. Make sure that schools serving high numbers of students not meeting academic standards have teachers and administrators of the highest quality.
    • Provide staff training in diversity and cultural competency.
    • Train teachers to recognize characteristics of high ability students and to provide for advanced learning needs.

  6. Recognize that students learn in different ways and at varying rates of speed and ensure additional learning time is provided to permit all students to meet standards.
    • Expand instructional opportunities to give students more time and instructional support to acquire fundamental skills.

  7. Implement preventative strategies and intervention services to ensure students do not fall behind or fail before being provided extra help.
    • Initiate general education interventions to target learning concerns of students at risk of not meeting state academic standards.
    • Include in the general education intervention plan steps to be taken to help the student meet standards including specific strategies parents can and should use to support the student’s learning

  8. Implement strategies that ensure students with disabilities reach their full potential to live, learn, work and play in their communities.
    • Recognize that strategies throughout the P-16 plan are also applicable for students with disabilities.
    • Inform parents and families of students with disabilities about the importance of student participation and progress in achieving Indiana’s academic standards.
    • Use data generated through Indiana’s Standards Tool for Alternate Reporting (ISTAR) to improve student progress.
    • Further disaggregate special education achievement data by exceptionality in order to better understand and address achievement gaps.
    • Develop the necessary partnerships between schools and Vocational Rehabilitation to ensure seamless transition from secondary to post-secondary activities.

  9. Provide incentives for schools to reduce the number of students who are chronically absent* and the number of students who drop out as identified in Dropout Prevention. (*A chronically absent student is a student that has been absent more than ten days from school within a school year without being excused.)
    • Involve human service organizations and the judicial and criminal justice system in community-based efforts to reduce absenteeism and dropouts.

  10. Teach all students to speak, read, and write English. Provide additional resources to schools with high numbers of limited English proficient (LEP) students.
  11. Insist on a rigorous academic curriculum and instruction for all as outlined in the following section, Ensuring College and Workforce Success.