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Educator as Analyst Part IV - Challenging the Achievement Gap

Educator as Analyst Part IV - Challenging the Achievement Gap

Part Four of Ketsia Hamilton’s series on Educator as Analyst


"If America's students are to remafin competitive in a knowledge-based economy, our public schools must greatly accelerate the rate of progress of the last four years and do more to narrow America's large achievement gaps. It is an urgent moral and economic imperative that our schools do a better job of preparing students for today's globally competitive world.”—Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan


The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the Nation’s Report Card this month. Although there was slight improvement overall on the 2013 reading and math results compared to previous years, there is still evidence of persistent achievement gaps among several demographic groups studied based on race, gender, and socioeconomic status as indicated by eligibility for the National School Lunch program (NSLP).  Yes, over time, the gaps have narrowed, but as schools continue to implement more rigorous standards and prepare for next-generation assessments, the questions looms: how are educators preparing to meet the needs of all students and working to ensure gaps in achievement are not pervasive?


There are multiple studies examining why achievement gaps exist and just as many ideas on reform efforts to close them. Considering there are no panaceas for immediate results, change must take place at the classroom level if we are truly vested in equal opportunity for all. Standards and data to drive instruction in the classroom are the “new norm” for education, and I believe engaging teachers with technology tools can support a more effective way to uncover learning gaps and find resources to fill them, thus positively impacting student achievement.

Kati Haycock, president of Education Trust, conducts extensive research on closing achievement gaps and offers four lessons on how education should shift in order to address this issue. As we examine these ideas, we’ll also look at how instructional technology can play a role in increasing our efforts toward realizing our goals.


1.  Standards are Key - Clear and public standards for what students should learn at benchmark grade levels are a crucial part of solving the problem. They are a guide—for teachers, administrators, parents, and students themselves—to what knowledge and skills students must master.


Improved state standards and the Common Core State Standards adopted by 45 states and District of Columbia have set us on course to defining what students need to know, and teachers have dedicated countless hours analyzing and understanding the expectations. However, identifying appropriate resources for instruction can be challenging and overwhelming. Instructional technology tools that automatically align standards with high-quality resources provide teachers assistance when planning lessons that must raise the expectation of learning for all students. Standards serve as a catalyst for addressing achievement gaps.


2.  All Students Must Have a Challenging Curriculum – The quality and intensity of high school coursework are the most important determinants of success in college—more important than class rank or scores on college admissions tests (Adelman, 1998). Curriculum rigor is also important for work-bound students (Bottoms, 1998).


The new standards require a much higher level of instruction that includes evaluation and synthesis of information, depth analysis, application of knowledge, and production of much more complex products of learning. 21st century teaching emphasizes student-centered instruction, and incorporating online courses with varied resources in a blended learning environment can provide rich opportunities for students to engage in higher-order thinking. Courseware combining multi-modality design and lessons targeting various learning styles appeals to broader audiences, thereby increasing connections to content. Rigorous content becomes more meaningful when students can absorb it in ways that appeal to their experiences – technology can help build bridges to learning.


3.  Students Need Extra Help - Evidence shows that almost all students can achieve at high levels if they are taught at high levels. But equally clear is that some students require more time and more instruction.


Closing achievement gaps requires support of personalized learning for each student. Schools have historically provided tutorials as a means of supporting students. The challenge with tutorial programs is that sessions tend to focus on reinforcing current instruction, not remediation of content.  However, incorporating diagnostic tools that automatically generate lessons targeting individual student skill gaps, along with self-paced instruction, is essential to laying the foundation from which higher-level learning may take place.  Using technology to automate the process gives students ownership of their learning and can lead to increased levels of motivation.

 4.  Teachers Matter a Lot - If students are going to be held to high standards, they need teachers who know the subjects and know how to teach the subjects.


A movement toward greater accountability in the teaching profession is at a peak, largely spurred by state waivers for NCLB requirements tied to the development of new teacher evaluation systems, inclusive of student achievement as a significant factor. As a result, there has been a surge in professional development opportunities, professional learning communities, and other collaborative efforts to support teacher development. Professional development around instructional technology has grown tremendously over the past five years, particularly in online, self-service e-learning. On-demand training, MOOCs, and online degrees and certificate programs offer multiple avenues that teachers may pursue to become competent instructors. 


As we continue commitments toward education reform, working to eliminate achievement gaps in education will require partnerships among all stakeholders. Aligning resources around standards, curricula student supports, and teachers gives us a blueprint on which our efforts should continue to focus. Technology in the 21st century has the potential to redefine education in America, and I believe in time, increasing equity in education will truly equal equity in achievement. Share your thoughts with us on how you see technology changing the future of education.



 Adelman, C. (1998). Answers in the toolbox. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.


Bottoms, G. (1998). High schools that work. Atlanta, GA: Southern Regional Education Board.


Haycock, K. (2001, March). Closing the Achievement Gap. Educational Leadership Magazine, 58(6), 6-11. Available: