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Three Effective Strategies for Closing the Achievement Gap as Class Sizes Increase

In the educational world of increased expectations and rising standards, teachers and school administrators understand the importance of closing the achievement gap. Project Star, a major longitudinal study of the effects of class size, discovered that reducing the number of students per class had a profound impact on the narrowing of the achievement gap. Although gaps may persist in all academic areas the achievement gap in mathematics can widen quickly because the Common Core State Standards require a deep understanding of individual and related concepts. 

Even though the research shows that smaller class sizes are beneficial, the number of students in classes across the country continues to grow. An elementary teacher likely won’t be able to reduce her class size. However, she does have other ways to help in closing the achievement gap:

Careful Assessment 
A smart first step to narrowing the achievement gap, regardless of class size, is to develop an assessment plan that allows for careful formative assessment. This data will allow the teacher to target gaps in learning for either individual students or groups of students with similar needs. As the teacher collects ongoing assessment data, to constantly inform and evolve instruction, she’ll begin to view a large class as smaller groups of students with specific needs. 

DreamBox provides real time reporting to teachers that they can use alongside their classroom assessments to determine students’ proficiency levels. As students complete the standards based computer activities their progress is updated, along with common misconceptions and accuracy rates, on their individual profile. These individual reports provide a teacher even more information about students and help her plan individualized and small group instruction. 

Intentional Small Group Instruction
Armed with standards based assessment data a teacher can implement intentional small group instruction as a means of closing the achievement gap. For example, once a teacher conducts a quick pre-assessment on a series of place value standards she may discover a bulk of her students require grade level instruction, another group has demonstrated mastery, and third group is in need of remedial instruction. She may likely plan activities and instruction that occur simultaneously within the classroom. While one group is receiving direct instruction the other two can be working independently at the computers or on math games. 

All Hands on Deck
Although small group instruction can contribute to closing the achievement gap it can also be difficult to implement alone. Many teachers have found that recruiting help is highly beneficial with large class sizes. Parent volunteers, school staff, and older student mentors are all great ways to increase the amount of individual attention students receive. However, there are likely many other community members that would be willing and excited to provide support to students. Teachers often must be creative in recruiting help; contacting community organizations, retired teachers, teacher education students, or professionals in math careers can help teachers to boost the assistance available to struggling students. 

What are other ways to close the achievement gap even if class sizes are growing?

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