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10 Secrets to Raising Student Achievement

Posted on Thursday January 17, 2013 by Staff Writers


Student achievement, from elementary school to higher ed, is languishing in many parts of the country. Test scores are stagnating or declining, grades are slipping, and students are increasingly dropping out of school. While there is no single solution to improving student achievement, there are some tried, true, and tested methods that have proven to be very effective in raising student achievement. Whether combined together or used on their own, the following offer some real hope in getting students to meet their true potential and excel at whatever educational endeavor is set in front of them.

  1. Reassessment of standardized testing.

    Standardized tests can be a great way for educators and administrators to gauge the progress that students are making in courses. Unfortunately, the way that many tests are presently set up, focused more on instructor accountability and basic skills and knowledge, may actually be holding students back. Research from the Gordon Commission has found that accountability-focused tests, and teaching catered to them, doesn’t help students develop the essential critical thinking and problem-solving skills they’ll need to succeed in college and beyond. In order to raise student achievement, the current standardized testing systems used in most states need major overhauls so that they can gauge not only the mastery of basic skills but of deeper learning, a lack of which (many education experts believe) is seriously hampering educational outcomes.

  2. Find ways to make up for budget shortfalls.

    Having a plush budget doesn’t guarantee that a school will be able to churn out students with top marks, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Things are stretched pretty thin, with many, if not most, schools at all levels of education making serious cutbacks in the past few years in light of state and federal cuts to spending. That means more students per classroom, less money for books, technology, and other supplies, and even the elimination of whole subject areas like art and music. It’s easy to see how this can affect student achievement, so schools need to get creative to find new ways to fill in gaps in funding to keep their students supplied with everything they need. Some schools are doing just that, establishing partnerships with nonprofits and private-sector businesses that have an interest in fostering education, though critics caution that it could take quite some time to see results after years of slash-and-burn budgeting.

  3. Improve teacher training.

    While policymakers have been focused on teacher quality, few have addressed what it actually takes to help teachers become better at their jobs. Many states have moved to use testing to evaluate teacher effectiveness, penalizing those who don’t match up rather than helping them to become better educators. This method may weed out some of the worst teachers, but it also may put a great deal of stress on new teachers who are promising but still need more training and guidance. Luckily, student achievement may get a bump from just this very issue in the coming years, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan making teacher training a front-burner issue and the National Council on Teacher Quality ranking teacher-preparation programs this year. Others think technology could offer an alternative solution, with MOOCs offering teachers training free of charge, the results of which will trickle down to students through improved knowledge, expertise, and educational methodology.

  4. Reform public policy on education.

    American politicians have long been searching for strong solutions to the problem of low student achievement. So far, programs like Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind have largely been ineffective and in some cases are actually hurting schools that need the most help and assistance. To really make a difference in student achievement levels, the U.S. educational system will need to make serious reforms that alter what students are taught, how they’re taught, and who’s teaching it. Furthermore, the changes need to be homegrown. While importing ideas from other nations with highly successful educational systems may seem like a good idea, many experts state that those nations succeed because their educational policies are interwoven into their larger social policies, and can’t simply be cut and pasted into educational policy in the U.S.

  5. Improve relationships.

    Books, resources, and great educators all play a role in helping improve student achievement, but a much more basic factor is also in play: communication. In order to raise student achievement, schools need to foster better relationships all the way around: between students and teachers, teachers and parents, administrators and teachers, and schools and the larger community. Only when all parties are actively involved in making changes, providing support, and working together can students make big jumps in achievement and have better educational outcomes for the long haul.

  6. Create strong leadership and administration.

    Student success in school isn’t just about what their teachers do, it’s also about what their principals and administrators are doing. At some of the best schools in the U.S., principals are a constant presence. They walk through the halls, they get to know students and teachers, and they play an active, daily presence in how the school is run and led. Both in the school and in the larger administrative body, those in education have to be able to confront problems, gather data, create attainable goals, monitor progress, and hold everyone involved in the educational process accountable for their role in student achievement. Under poor leadership it is nearly impossible to make sustainable and significant changes to student achievement.

  7. Develop high expectations of students.

    As it turns out, one of the secrets to raising student achievement is pretty simple: set high standards and expect students to meet them. It may sound flip to boil down student achievement to such a simple statement, but putting this into practice has shown that it’s actually a very effective method of motivating students to achieve. Teachers must create a challenging curriculum, pay close attention to student progress, and be there to help students when they are struggling. Studies have shown that raising expectations of students can help them to improve in school by developing their confidence, giving them a sense of belonging, and teaching them self-reliance. Ultimately students can only perform in the ways and at the level that their teachers expect and demand, so motivating and supporting them to achieve higher standards has a long-lasting effect on educational outcomes.

  8. Ensure students master basic skills before moving on.

    Sadly, it’s often much easier for teachers and administrators to pass a student along to the next grade level before he or she has fully mastered the skills from the previous year than to hold him or her back. Over time, the disparity between what the student knows and what he or she should know grows to be so wide that the student feels frustrated, achievement drops, and school may become a punishment not a privilege. It is critical for the long-term achievement of students that they are given a strong framework for the basic skills they’ll need in reading, writing, and mathematics. Students who are given extra support and attention when they haven’t mastered a concept, often being retaught the lesson immediately, are much more likely to stay in school, get better grades, and succeed.

  9. Take advantage of technology in smart ways.

    While technology isn’t essential to teaching, it can be a valuable tool in many ways for teaching today’s children. Studies have shown that students often stay engaged longer and take more of an active role in their own learning process when they use technology to learn. Additionally, technology also provides a way for teachers to meet the needs of the wide variety of achievement levels in a given classroom. Students can use educational games and learning modules to work through concepts until they understand them, each working at his or her own pace. Those who need additional support can get it from teachers. Technology also makes it easier to monitor student progress and to alert parents when students are struggling. While it is not a panacea to everything that ails education, technology can play an important and lasting role in raising student achievement when used intelligently in the classroom.

  10. Constant reevaluation and improvement.

    The world is in a constant state of change, and education has to change with it. Even the best solutions for today’s students may not work in five or 10 years’ time. Sadly, many schools are sticking with outdated, unproven methods that aren’t helping students learn or meet their potential. To raise student achievement, schools, educators, and policymakers have to be willing to constantly reevaluate what’s working and what’s not, and always strive to improve, even when outcomes already seem “good enough.”