Teachers play a vital role in closing the student achievement gap. By learning new strategies in how they approach instructing students, lesson planning, assessing students and providing feedback, teachers can help at-risk students who are falling short of achievement standards.
Learning about these strategies often requires further professional development, such as the online courses offered for teachers by Fresno Pacific University. They offer the latest strategies for teachers to employ that can help close the achievement gap.
What Is the Achievement Gap?
The term achievement gap refers to disparities in academic performance and educational attainment between distinct groups of students. There are many ways to divide groups of students to ascertain whether there is an achievement gap. They can be considered separately by race, for example, or socio-economic status.
Only gaps that are significant and persistent are considered achievement gaps that should be addressed by educators.
These gaps are not limited to race, ethnic origin or economic status. The National Education Association (NEA) points out that gaps can also occur along gender lines, writing that “some groups may trail at particular points, for example, boys in the early years and girls in high school math and science.”
Sharon Owyang, the instructor for the course, who has a Master of Science in Educational Leadership, said the gaps grows as students progress through school.
“The achievement gap is a challenge for educators as they review the data from grade-level test scores, school district and state test scores,” Owyang said. “The achievement gap tends to widen as the students progress through the grades; it becomes harder to catch up. Learning may be marginalized with poor attendance, socio-economic status and language disabilities.”
Why Is It Important to Close the Achievement Gap?
Achievement gaps that begin in school can impact a child’s future. NEA data supports what Owyang pointed out. Students trailing in certain academic areas early in school have a lesser chance of completing high school or earning a college degree.
The NEA writes that the achievement gap may even impact “the kinds of jobs students secure as adults.”
The Glossary of Education Reform notes that achievement gaps are most often pointed out between white and Asian students and black and Hispanic students and also American students as a whole vs. international students on standardized test scores.
Test scores aren’t the whole story, though. The education reform site, which is run by the Great Schools Partnership nonprofit group, also notes that achievement gaps can be seen in the following data sets:
- Graduation rates
- College enrollment rates
- College completion rates
- Course grades
- Dropout rates
- Absenteeism rates
- Disciplinary infractions
Research over the years has helped teachers develop strategies that can narrow the achievement gap for receptive students. Many of these strategies are discussed in professional development courses such as the one offered by Fresno Pacific University.
Fresno Pacific University Course
The “Achievement Gap: Teacher’s Role” is a course offered through Fresno Pacific University continuing education program that focuses on how teachers can use new strategies to help academically at-risk students.
The course focuses on how teachers can play a vital role in helping those students who are falling short of standards and achievements through changes in lesson planning, teaching, assessment practices and feedback.
Owyang said that “one of the greatest assets is teacher effect - instructional planning and actual teaching and assessment practices in the classroom. That is the single most powerful measure to influence student learning.”
The course applies to teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade in all subject areas. This includes English language learners, special education and inclusive classrooms. Part of the course allows teachers to create a project lesson to include in their classroom.
Owyang said the course is designed for teachers to implement the strategies in existing lessons or design future lessons for small groups or the whole class. The course also includes information from working educators about closing the gap and offers a forum for students to post questions and responses with other teachers.
She said the course also offers:
- A focus on targeted instruction with curriculum documents, a plan book and grade book
- Information on providing a hook that engages students using peer collaboration.
- Ideas to design lessons and clarify goals that students understand
- Information for students on how to apply high yield learning strategies
- Information on how to set up and use an Interactive Notebook
- Information on planning a goal tracking sheet for students to clarify attaining the goal and amount of effort
- Promotion of progress of English Language Learners with Language Goals and Content Goals Examination and deciding which co-teaching models may work well in their classroom
The online course offers Common Core state standards, nine different strategies for closing the achievement gap and videos of classroom progress.