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Will ESSA Fail to close the Achievement Gaps?


An article in EdWeek suggests that the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law more than three years ago, hasn’t achieved much, particularly with respect to closing the achievement gaps. Gaps persist for economically disadvantaged students, English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

Some states have ambitious goals to impact this perennial problem, but state seem to be telling a less encouraging story. A report by HCM Strategists could only find 17 states with enough information on their websites to evaluate the infrastructure they have created to support the implementation of ESSA. Data on actual impact on the achievement gap is even harder to find, and what can be found is not comforting. In North Carolina, for example, a quarter of the schools that received an A for their overall performance, received an F for at least one student subgroup. When it came to the B schools, the vast majority received Ds or Fs for those groups.

The situation is sort of like failing students. They get promoted and graduate. The schools get passed to the next year, as well, unless the state actually decides to take them over.

The proposition that every child will learn and every student will succeed is worthy. And it is possible. Not easy, but possible, as educators have shown in schools that effectively look at the underlying causes of learning differences.

Let’s consider students who are economically disadvantaged. The impact of poverty on cognitive development is well researched. We see that impact in studies we have done with cognitive tests in schools with high levels of poverty. In one study, 4th and 5th grade boys were on average, 3 years behind in their cognitive development compared to their physical age. We commonly hear that these types of students are 2 to 3 years behind academically. But they may also be 2 to 3 year behind cognitively. And what do you think happens when you put a first-grader’s brain into a fourth-grade classroom?

Most importantly, we don’t have to just throw up our hands and bemoan the fact; we can help those students – and their teachers did help those 4th and 5th grade boys – make up all of that gap – developing their capacity to learn. How long did that take? 12 weeks. Of course, those stronger minds still to have to learn the academic content they weren’t able to master before, but now they can do it.

There is a similar story for students with learning disabilities, where 12 weeks of cognitive training helped them almost close the gap to typically developing students across multiple cognitive measures, including working memory, attention and short-term memory.

It’s a little late in the school year now. Most schools don’t have 12 weeks left, especially once you subtract spring break and testing weeks from the schedule, but there will be a new school year come August or September. Then the clock will start ticking again. Read more about how BrainWare Learning Company can support school efforts to meet the ESSA goals of closing the achievement gaps.



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