Closing the Achievement Gap

ClosingTheGap

In a blog post written last month, “Addressing Student Achievement Gaps in Sub Cells” by Nichole Laven, it was clear the process for determining what is needed for our students by implementing standards. However, it is my experience that standards alone do not address the whole child. As we move through the difficult task of educating our children on a daily basis we find that an increasing number of students are lacking the social skills necessary to become an active citizen in our communities. It is another piece of the puzzle to build a successful child within the school system.

It is apparent that more is being asked of our staff members to develop relationships and build a sense of community within the school day, however, as a school system we have not increased our number of days to allow for teaching the social aspect during the school day.

This can be looked at through three different lenses:
1. Mental Health
2. Behavior
3. Attendance

1..Let’s take a look at the first area of mental health. Many of our students living in poverty deal with major stressors stemming from home life. The student most likely will bring this with them to school and it will affect their day. Developing programming that addresses this issue is a three-tiered process:

  • First there must be a system in place to work with the 80% or better of students that need minimal support. This could be a PBIS approach or it could be a program like Owleus or Responsive Classroom.
  • The second tier is more of a school district decision. A school social worker can identify and work with a multitude of students to help them identify and solve some of the home issues that are brought to school. The school social worker is also a support for providing information to parents and caregivers.
  • The third tier has to do with the school district working with local agencies to provide mental health therapy and skills. This happens through a partnership and is essential in handling the higher level issues that our students deal with. Communication is key between the individuals involved with the student and can be facilitated by the school social worker or principal.

2. The next area to look at is behavior. Through all school systems it is important to have a behavior protocol. Students learn the rules through their classrooms and teachers. It is vital that all teachers are on the same protocol as to not confuse the students when moving from one classroom to the next. If everyone is communicating a different set of rules students become confused by what the rules really are. Take a part of a workshop day or develop a committee to make sure that all staff has been implementing the same protocols.

3. Finally, we need to take a look at attendance. For most students in your schools this is not an issue, but for a few it can mean success or failure. Especially when you are looking at high stakes testing and achievement gap. Many of our sub groups hold students that are frequently gone from school. It is important to gauge what can be done as a school to improve attendance. One valuable resource is your teachers. Yes, it is one more thing for them to do and to volunteer for, but it is a way to improve attendance of your most significantly poor attending students. We have enlisted staff to be mentors for our students with 25 days or more absent. This approach is different in that many times schools reward students for coming to school. We are approaching it by providing a mentor who is the one caring adult they can check in with during the day. The mentor will do check-ins throughout the week to make sure that student is on track and they have a chance to share information that might be bothering them. It also provides a way for that student to have some one on one time that might not have been provided at home. So far this approach has yielded a positive affect on our students with chronic absences and most of them are identified in a sub group for testing.

After reviewing the three approaches it is important to remember that all of them are connected. This is not new information or earth shattering for most of us. We all work hard to determine the right approach and find a way to make sure that every child is successful in the learning process.

Blog post by:

Jason Luksik, Principal
Lincoln Elementary School
Bemidji Public Schools
Twitter: @LinconElement

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