Boulder Valley School District

Taking steps to close the achievement gap

Taking steps to close the achievement gap
Carolyn Nohe

While many may think that being in the midst of a pandemic would slow down the work of the Strategic Plan, many key initiatives have actually been sped up so they can launch in Fall 2021 to help support the needs of students after this unexpected year.

“I think we have to be realistic that some of our students are going to have some gaps in their learning and are going to need some intervention in order to make up those gaps so they can stay on pace with grade level content,” said Area Superintendent Sam Messier.

An integral piece of the All Together for All Students Strategic Plan is creating a common scope and sequence across the district. In layperson's terms this means deciding what are the most important things to teach and in what order. Doing this systemwide can help achieve the plan’s long term outcome of reducing disparities in achievement, which have persisted in BVSD, despite the incredible teachers that the district has.

“If we still have an achievement gap after 20 years, it's not because our teachers have failed, it’s because we have failed to give them the support in terms of the systems and structures that allow them to focus on the right work with their kids,” said Area Superintendent Sam Messier.

What are the most important things to teach
Teachers can’t possibly focus on all of the academic standards in depth. 110 educators were brought in to look at the 2020 Colorado Academic Standards and then, by using the criteria of leverage, continuity and relevance, held up the most important standards.

Leverage: It connects to other learning or helps develop a transferable skill

Continuity: It builds on previous learning or prepares for future learning

Relevance: It is meaningful beyond the walls of the classroom

After educators worked to prioritize the standards across content areas and grade levels, another set of educators worked on unit development over the summer of 2020, and more will do this work this upcoming summer, created theme/units that were then put together in a sequence and a pacing for how long it will take to teach them.

“I believe the scope and sequence is a critical foundational component to support the needs of our kids and our teachers,” said Messier.

Building continuity through integration of contents
“Content and literacy when brought together really support language development and so opportunities to connect content in meaningful ways with the reading units are built in,” said Shannon Gamble, BVSD Reading Coordinator.

Integration of units across content areas and prioritizing standards that appeared in multiple contents were top priorities of educators and district leaders. Teams started by integrating science and social studies areas as much as possible and then layering language arts, reading/writing and math.

Providing continuity across the day for language learners is especially important, shared Julie Benmellah, BVSD Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education (CLDE) Coordinator. 

“We aren’t just readers for 45 minutes a day, or only learning language for a part of the day. We are learning and strengthening those skills across the day. It is important to build opportunities for that constant connection so that we are building up the vocabulary and the interconnected language that students will be able to use throughout the day,” said Benmellah.

Writing and reading units were closely aligned so that, for example, when students are reading informative texts in reading they’ll also be learning about writing informative texts during writing time. And writing standards will be integrated as part of the science and social studies units so that way students will be able to connect to the other projects occurring in those content areas. 

Messier is optimistic about the district and educator work on the scope and sequence and unit development and its positive impact on the achievement gap.

“We are building every set of tools and resources through the lens of this has to be good for our CLDE students. That being at the core of what we’re doing and putting this in the hands of our amazing teachers, we will make amazing outcomes for our kids. If any district can close the achievement gap for kids it's BVSD. That’s the most exciting thing about this.”


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