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States' Efforts to Close Achievement Gap Examined in New Report

Among education buzzwords and favored phrases, the "achievement gap" that separates disadvantaged and minority students from their peers, and how to close it, is one of the more frequent in circulation. A recent report from the Education Commission of the States, "Closing the Achievement Gap: Four States' Efforts," examines how Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, and Wisconsin have tried to shrink the separation between wealthy and privileged students from the rest.

One thing you'll notice in the report, written by ECS policy analyst Micah Ann Wixom, is that all four of the highlighted states have created task forces of some sort in the recent past to address or somehow oversee efforts related to achievement gaps.

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In all but one of the featured states, policymakers gave themselves and schools a deadline for making progress. In Connecticut, for example, the Achievement Gap Task Force, created in 2011, is tied to the state's goal of eliminating gaps across various groups of students by 2020. And in Massachusetts, the state created a Proficiency Gap Task Force in 2009, and pledged in its 2012 No Child Left Behind Act waiver application to slash proficiency gaps between students in half by 2017. (Wisconsin adopted a similar goal hinging on 2017.) 

Some of the common themes among states' efforts that Wixom found include:

• Offering professional development specific to teachers and administrators in low-performing schools and districts.

• Assisting English-language learners (ELLs) and ELL teachers through special programs and extra teacher training.

• Creating initiatives to address housing and food insecurity.

• Exploring alternative disciplinary actions to suspensions or expulsions, which disproportionately affect students of color.

"While many of the efforts highlighted are quite recent and their overall impact and success is yet to be determined, these efforts were chosen because they are robust, long-term, creative or unusual approaches to addressing this ongoing issue," Wixom wrote.

She highlights Massachusetts' Gateway Cities Education Agenda that focuses on gaps in mid-size former industrial cities in that state, as well as the 10 "priority areas" for gap-closure first identified in Washington state in 2008.

You can read Wixom's full report below:

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