Our closing-the-gap activities reflect our strategic and intentional response to discrepancies in outcome data existing between students of different races and ethnicities in our school. We are committed to equity for all students, and that is why we carefully analyze quarterly outcome data to identify and respond to the needs of our students. At first glance it would be easy to assume that overall students attending Capitol Hill are high performing across the board, for example, there were only 5 failed core courses in 8th grade in Quarter 2 in a class of 219 students. However, students of color make up 56.4% of the student body, yet 4 of the 5 failed core courses were received by students of color and only one core course was failed by a white student. In 7th grade, a class of 205 students, 20 of the 22 failed core courses in Quarter 2 were received by students of color and only 2 were received by white students. We view these gaps in achievement as an urgent call to action.
The activities and interventions we choose were a good fit for our students and the culture of our learning community. School-wide we focus on growth mindset and the five domains of Social Emotional Learning (SEL): self-awareness, self-management, relationships skills, responsible decision-making, and social-awareness. Research supports that both growth mindset and executive function skills are proven pathways to closing the achievement gap. Inspired by the work of Carol Dweck, in the 2015-2016 school year we implemented growth mindset small groups with students failing core courses. Reflecting on these groups we felt that we needed to add executive function skill building to our plan. Executive function refers to the brain-based skills that make it possible for people to pay attention, remember goals, control impulses, delay gratification and think flexibly. We are a Gifted and Talented (GT) magnet school, and many GT learners need growth in one or more of these areas. Research also suggests that children growing up in poverty often have poor executive function skills. We wanted to honor and build on what our teachers were already teaching through available curriculums including Mind Up, Yoga Calm, and Brain Gym. With our students and our school community in mind, we chose a resource titled The Executive Functioning Workbook for Teens by Sharon A. Hansen, MSE, NBCT. We identified the exact students who received an N in one or more core subjects, and narrowed our focus to eight 7th grade students and six 8th grade students.
Analyzing the effectiveness of our response to inequities in the outcome data helps us to deliver future interventions more effectively, understand and collect future data with a focus on equity, target essential ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors, and make decisions about future closing the gap interventions and activities. The results from our closing the gap interventions were promising. Seven of eight targeted 7th grade students reduced the number of core classes failed, and six of eight students improved their term GPA. In the 8th grade group, half of the students reduced the number of core classes failed and improved their term GPA. These results will help us deliver interventions more effectively in the future. For example, we will continue to focus on a combination of building growth mindsets and strengthening executive function skills by diving deeper into the resources and utilizing available technology to keep sessions engaging and interactive for students. The positive gains also motivated us to seek out district level resources to help us pull specific data more efficiently. For example, we learned that every quarter principals receive data known as SCIP data that includes overall data and the breakdown by race and ethnicity. This helps us to identify gaps faster and begin interventions with the proper urgency. By focusing on growth mindset and executive function skills, we believe a ripple effect will occur for targeted ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors with these students. For example, strengthened executive function skills will help students build self-management skills (B-SMS 1-10), which will foster positive Mindsets (M 1-6).
Closing the achievement gap is our most important work. We feel so strongly about this work that we have a program goal in place for the 2017-2018 school year completely focused on gaps in outcome data. We are driven by a high standard of equity for all students, and we will continue to add interventions and activities to our closing the gap action plan through every mode of delivery including core curriculum, small group, and individual work with students.