Sunday, May 6, 2012

Foresight is Necessary to Effectively Use a Process for Closing the Achievement Gap

        The achievement gap between economically poor and disadvantaged students and their non-disadvantaged counterparts is nothing new.  Evidence suggests that it can be mitigated using a four-step Targeted Accelerated Growth (TAG) loop process: (1) discovering through the administration of diagnostic assessment the sub-skill deficiency, (2) providing increased direct instructional time, (3) focused teaching to the deficient sub-skill, and (4) retesting to assure that learning has actually occurred (Fielding, Kerr, & Rosier,2007, p. 19),  Despite documented success of the process,  the field seemingly refuses to use the foresight needed to improve learning for all.
        As noted by Fielding et al., (2007), "layers of processes, some of which may not even currently exist in your district, must be carefully added and must work together.  In addition, the governance structure must interact in different ways to create and sustain these changes" (p. 20).  
        The TAG loop process is a process not a linear model.  With any process foresight is needed to accept changes resulting from the interpretation of reliable data.  This is crucial for success based on application of correct micro-adjustments.  It takes foresight from educational leaders and stakeholders to utilize diagnostic testing and professional development for the teaching staff to ensure they are able to effectively use data.  This is the piece that allows proportional increases in instructional time to be well-developed.  Without data gathering and understanding how to use it diagnostically-little else to promote an effective process is truly possible.  Unfortunately, too often well-intentioned administrators convey the need for change without teaching stakeholders, including staff, how to interpret the meaning of the data.  Using data to frequently monitor student progress is one of the seven correlates of reform posited by Effective Schools Research.
       College Park Elementary School has a preponderance of students whose parents are employed by the University of Maryland.  By contrast, Columbia Park Elementary School is located in an impoverished neighborhood near the District of Columbia.  College Park students scored at the 90th percentile on average, while Columbia Park scored at the 94th percentile (Comer 1998).  How is this possible?  Columbia Park Elementary School is able to consistently exhibit the seven correlates of Effective Schools:  
•           Safe and Orderly Environment
•           Clear and Focused Mission
•           Climate of High Expectations for Success
•           Opportunity to Learn & Student Time on Task
•           Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress
•           Positive Home-School Relations
•           Strong Instructional Leadership
         The illustration exemplified in Comer’s study proves it is not who goes to the school but what goes on in the school that matters.  How many of the seven correlates are evident in your school?  If some are not evident, what are you prepared to do to raise awareness of the need to utilize all seven correlates to promote learning for all?
Comer, J. P. (1998). Educating poor minority children. Scientific American, 259(5) 42-48.
Fielding, L., Kerr, N., & Rosier, P. (2007). Annual growth for all students, catch-up growth for  
         those who are behind. New York: Foundation Press
Lezotte, L. W. (1991) Correlates of Effective Schools: The First and Second Generation.