Bridging the achievement gap

New research shows how small changes in the classroom can play a big role in reducing academic disparities.

Reducing the achievement gap may require specific changes to how curricula are taught — in addition to broader policy reforms.

Last month, the New York Times reported on a study at the University of Texas that found that quizzing college students at the beginning of each class increases both attendance and overall performance. It’s especially significant that researchers learned that academic performances improved the most among students from lower-income backgrounds under the frequent quizzing model.

The study demonstrates how the “testing effect” can reduce the disparity in academic performance between low- and high-income students. Frequent quizzing pushes students to keep up with readings and pay attention in class. The authors also found that the quizzes can help students improve the way they study.

Though the study was done on college students, its findings have limited usefulness in higher education, where students are solely responsible for their academic performance and should be free to attend or miss class at their own choosing.

The study’s findings are encouraging, though more research is needed to understand how widely they can be applied.

Minnesota K-12 schools, which have some of the nation’s largest achievement gaps, could stand to benefit from the testing effect. High schools, particularly those located in districts with higher rates of poverty, may want to use frequent quizzing as a way to keep students focused and attending class.

The state Legislature, as well as teachers and school administrators, should understand that reducing the achievement gap may require specific changes in the way material is taught and how knowledge is measured. Those in leadership positions should keep new and important research in mind when making reforms aimed at reducing the achievement gap.