Share this

Closing the Student Achievement Gap

May 12, 2010
Dewitt Jones
Des Moines Register
August 26, 2009

Dr. Dewitt Jones, associate professor in educational leadership, counseling & postsecondary education at the University of Northern Iowa

It seems like everyone these days is talking about the student achievement gap and the need for improvement. But are we addressing the right areas and proposing the right solutions for this problem? If we keep doing what we have been, we will continue to get what we have gotten -- a group of students, from all socio-economic backgrounds who perform either extremely well, mediocre or under par.

Many current researchers say "hold on a minute." According to Douglas Reeves, chairman and founder for the Center for Performance Assessment, if every teacher successfully implemented all the current strategies they possess, all of our students would achieve at much higher levels. So what is the hold up? Doug Reeves would say, "monitoring and accountability."

As children, we learned quickly that if we wanted to enjoy privileges, we needed to obey our parents. Were our rooms tidy? Did we brush our teeth? Were we dressed appropriately and so on. As adults the same thing happens to us. On my way to work every day at the University of Northern Iowa, I know there is a police car positioned in the same location checking for drivers exceeding the speed limit. What do I do? I drive the speed limit. What gets monitored becomes important. It always has and always will.

How do we close the achievement gap? One way is by implementing a systemic approach, one that includes a strong staff development program for teachers, a monitoring and assessment plan for education leaders, community collaboration and parental involvement.

In a survey by Reeves titled, "The Gap Between What Leaders Know and What They Do," (2009) we learn that only 67% strongly agree that monitoring classroom performance on a regular basis, and offering pathways to improve individual student performance through improved teaching practices is important, and only 30% strongly agree that they perform this function.

The challenge is that many of our teachers don’t need someone monitoring everything they do to help students achieve at high levels. These teachers are already excelling in the classroom. Every year, parents are trying to get their children into these teachers' classes. The students in high school know who these teachers are as well. These great teachers establish appropriate relationships with students and parents, communicate regularly, have high standards, know how to differentiate instruction in their classes, and utilize many educational tools to ensure all students in their classrooms are learning.

The current student achievement data used in every schoolroom shows which teachers consistently have students in their classes that annually achieve a year or more growth academically. The principals know who these teachers are as well as those who don’t meet the criteria. Remember that the Reeves study indicates, only 30% strongly agree that principals perform the function of monitoring classroom performance on a regular basis. Does it surprise us to understand how underperforming teachers can continue not to implement the strategies that we know will improve student performance?

So clearly what we monitor in school becomes important. What roles can parents play? Parents are their children's first teachers. Parents can help by participating in their children's educational lives. Parents should start asking about how teachers and administrators monitor assessment and achievement. What are teachers doing for staff development? How are teachers and administrators held accountable for their work?

Let’s close our achievement gaps and raise our student achievement levels by demanding more implementation of proven strategies, accountability, monitoring, and assessment of student achievement through staff development. Parents, become more engaged in your children's school and daily learning. A more holistic approach will help us close the student achievement gap.