How to Identify Learning Gaps Based on Mastery of Learning Standards

Contributed By

Lauren Davis

EdTech Editor, Former Department Chair and Instructional Coach

How to Identify Learning Gaps Based on Mastery of Learning Standards

Posted in Pro Tips | July 02, 2020

Learning gaps are far from a novel concept. For generations, when students have fallen behind, it’s been common to refer to learning gaps as the reason. While we definitely understand that there are infinite possible reasons students struggle to progress, the concern around learning gaps in our current pandemic-induced academic shift is valid and must be addressed. 

By definition, learning gaps are the difference between what a student is expected to have learned by a certain grade level versus what they have actually learned up to that point. These gaps are often compounding. This means that if they are not addressed, students are likely to fall further and further behind because of the skills and knowledge they’ve missed. Obviously, this poses a major challenge for both educators and students alike.  

In order to combat learning gaps brought about by COVID-19, the first step is learning how to identify them.  

It’s all about the data.  

Yes, I know. By now, I sound like a broken record. “Data, data, data.” But, it really is that crucial, especially now when so many elements of the way we’ve always done things are out of our control. Unlike previous years, we cannot simply progress through the curriculum as is, assuming that because students have “made it this far” they have a complete understanding of what’s going on up until this point in their learning.  

The following tips will help you identify student learning gaps so that you can plan around your students’ needs. 

Before addressing learning gaps, you must ask the right questions. 

Asking the right questions helps you analyze and organize information. When determining learning gaps, ask yourself, your team, and students’ previous teachers the following questions throughout the process: 

  1. Which students need additional assistance? 
  2. What standards were not covered last year (especially after switching to distance learning)? 
  3. What knowledge and skills can students build on to succeed moving forward? 
  4. What additional professional development is needed for students and teachers to be successful? 

You won’t necessarily be able to get answers to all four questions up front. Further research and analysis is required to truly get a complete understanding of where students are and what they need to be successful.  

Tap into assessment data. 

Unfortunately, we will not have the benefit of simply pulling up last year's state assessment scores at the beginning of the school year to determine students’ proficiency on certain standards. Instead, we’ll have to dig a little deeper and leverage other student data to make informed decisions about whether or not students have both subtle or glaring learning gaps. By analyzing data from previous years’ assessments and performance tasks, educators will have greater insight into how to refine lessons, structure interventions, and allocate school and district resources for the benefit of all students.  

It’s imperative that educators analyze the mastery of standards on classroom assessments and district benchmarks from previous years, as well as state assessment scores (pre-2020). In your analysis, take note of standards that were missed by numerous students and those that everyone seemed to have a good grasp of. This way, you can put students with common learning gaps in small groups to reteach the standards, while other small groups can extend their learning in these areas.   

Diagnostic assessments are critical to bridging the learning gap.  

With gaps identified by standard, educators then must start the year with a comprehensive diagnostic assessment. After all, we cannot afford to discount the summer slide, which may have impacted many students since the last data we have on them. By using the tools you already possess, like your learning management system (LMS) and an all-in-one assessment solution, like Performance Matters, you’ll have more insight to identify the factors that should be considered for those quick decisions that need to be made as soon as students return to school in the fall.  

  • At a minimum students should be assessed on fundamental standards, transferable standards, and enduring standards.  
  • Fundamental Standards are those that provide a foundation upon which subsequent knowledge will be built. They’re essential because they serve to scaffold later content knowledge. 
  • Transferable Standards have value across content areas. They are often in the form of skills, and students are able to apply what they’ve learned in different classes and subjects. 
  • Enduring Standards are those that have value beyond a certain grade level or content topic. These are the standards that will reappear in the context of extension or deeper understanding in later grades. 

The analysis of this data, once the assessment is complete, should happen immediately. Group the data by standards, so that it’s easier to find trends for individual students and the class as a whole. Then, when refining lessons, start with the most foundational skills and concepts, so that students have knowledge to build upon and will not get further behind by still trying to operate with missing information.  

Understanding the data through thorough analysis is the first step to identifying the best strategies for closing students’ learning gaps. Undoubtedly, findings will help guide the kinds of direct teaching and assessments required to help students who may be struggling due to the extreme circumstances that we’ve been faced with over the past several months. 

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