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Filling the Gaps

I was recently interviewed as an education expert on a story on the failing NAEP scores. Our 30-minute conversation was snipped down to about 30 seconds and is featured here. I thought I would share some of the other things we discussed that were left on the cutting room floor.

Each year NAEP testing is given to a cross-section of schools across the country. Last year a special administration was given to 9 years olds. The results demonstrated the negative impact the COVID pandemic school closures had on student achievement.

In both ELA and math, there was a significant drop between 2020 and 2022. As a matter of fact, it is the biggest drop in ELA and the first-ever drop in math. The images below show results over time.


When I read the results, I was not surprised one bit. The COVID pandemic caused brick-and-mortar schools to teach virtually, we did not become virtual schools. Virtual schools are set up to provide curriculum in an interactive way through various modes of technology. We, as educators in physical schools, had to use virtual tools to teach our children when they were at home. There was a swift and steep learning curve.

In his work on change management, Michael Fullan coined the phrase “implementation dip” to describe why a decrease in performance and confidence occurs when people implement an innovation that requires them to build new competencies and knowledge. Even if the tools teachers were using to teach virtually were substantially better than what they were using in the physical building, there was bound to be a drop in performance. Teachers then had to go

back to a new “normal” in school with some kids in the building while others were still virtual. The efforts were split and the face-to-face individualized teaching that children so desperately need to progress was virtually non-existent due to the COVID modifications schools had to make in classrooms.

The study confirmed what educators already sadly know, students who were already behind dropped even further behind. Children who live in poverty fared worse than their more affluent peers. Children who had better access to technology during the pandemic fared better than those who didn’t. The report also showed that the more affluent peers were more confident with their online learning than the children of poverty.

When the report came out, I saw a tweet that said, “blame the schools and teachers.” Um, excuse me? I think by blame you must mean celebrate because educators did a yeoman’s job of teaching their students under unprecedented, difficult times. Ugh…some people, but I digress, back to regular programming.

The reporter asked me if we can ever make up for the loss and I am hopeful that we will. Here are some tips for how your school can make up some of the gaps created by the COVID pandemic:

1. Break out and disaggregate the data. Figure out where the gaps are. I like to use the ATLAS Looking at Data Protocol which can be found here. With your teams find out where the gaps are

a. In each subject at each grade level…

b. By teacher….

c. By student…

d. By subgroups…

2. Figure out if there are power standards upon which if you focus you can fill multiple gaps. More on power standards can be found here.

3. Determine which standards need to be retaught system-wide, by classroom, by teacher (RTI/Resource), and by student. Set a goal and determine how and when you will measure improvement.

4. Provide professional learning to staff on how to reteach a specific standard. We used a protocol found in the work of Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. Some examples can be found here.

5. Set actionable steps to lead up to goal attainment. Celebrate when the actionable steps are achieved.

6. Monitor goal progress using formative assessments such as reviewing classroom work, tickets out the door, etc.

7. Assess the goal, make results public, and celebrate them.

8. Set a new goal and repeat.

Schools cannot fill all gaps at once. It is best to look at gap filling as the staircase and ask yourself, "what must I improve on the lower steps that will help me get to the higher steps so I can tackle them?" The impact of COVID on schools is long reaching and will not be solved overnight but if your school creates a plan to fill those gaps it will happen.

If you’d like more information on how I help schools and districts achieve their goals fill out this form for a connection call.

In friendship, love, and leadership,


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