Tips for Using Rigor, Relevance and Relationships to Improve Student Achievement (page 3)

By — American Association of School Administrators
Updated on May 1, 2014

Participation Gap

The participation gap, defined as the difference between students who are meaningfully connected to their learning and those who are not, must be eliminated for student achievement to rise. It is not enough to strengthen curriculum offerings and test preparation strategies. If students are to enjoy greater academic success, they must believe in themselves, be excited about their learning and see the link between what they learn today and who they want to become tomorrow. When these pieces are in place, students are more likely to participate in the learning process. And when they participate, they are more likely to achieve. Based on the My Voice survey results, the Quaglia Institute determined that increasing student participation depends on three key components of the student experience — self-worth, active engagement and purpose:

  • Help students develop a sense of self-worth. For students to increase their participation in the learning process, they must have a sense of self-worth. They are then more likely to persevere through difficult tasks and take the steps needed to reach their goals. Students must have a sense of belonging. They must feel they are part of the school community while being appreciated for their uniqueness as individuals. They must have a hero, someone they can look up to, respect and learn from. Students also must experience a sense of accomplishment. They must be recognized for effort, perseverance and citizenship as well as for high grades and good test scores.
  • Foster students’ active engagement in learning. The participation gap also will begin to close when students are actively engaged in relevant learning. In this way, learning becomes important in and of itself. When they are actively engaged, students become so involved in their own learning they lose track of time and space. At the end of a lesson they wonder, “Where did that time go?”
  • Encourage a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose involves being responsible and accountable for choices, behaviors and actions. To develop these traits, students must have leadership roles in schools that provide a real sense of responsibility. Schools must challenge students to think about who they want to become as well as what they want to be. When students have all three components, they are more likely to show marked improvements in academic achievement, social awareness and positive contributions to their school community. Only when all students are deeply connected to their learning will the larger goal of narrowing the achievement gap be met.

Learning Criteria

In 2005, the International Center and the Council of Chief State School Officers embarked on the five-year initiative to identify and analyze the nation’s most successful high school practices and policies. During this ongoing research, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Center has examined some of the best schools in the country that have the challenges of poverty, mobility and diversity but still have high rates of student success. The International Center developed its Learning Criteria to Support Rigor, Relevance and Relationships to assist in this examination. Arranged into four data categories, the set of criteria helps education leaders determine the success of their schools in preparing students for current assessments and for future roles and responsibilities. Regardless of its focus, a school should have data indicators in four categories.

  • Core Academic Learning: achievement in English language arts, math, science and others as identified by the school.
  • Stretch Learning: demonstration of rigorous and relevant learning beyond minimum requirements, such as participation in higher-level courses.
  • Student Engagement: the extent to which students are motivated and committed to learning, have a sense of belonging and accomplishment and have relationships with adults, peers and parents who support learning.
  • Personal Skill Development: measures of personal, social, service and leadership skills and demonstrations of positive behaviors and attitudes.

The destination for education has to be rigor, relevance and relationships if we want to prepare students for college, work and life in the 21st century. Getting to that destination requires school staff to work collaboratively toward common goals through analyzing data, adopting best practices, taking risks and embracing change.

Ray McNulty, a former superintendent in Vermont, is senior vice president with International Center for Leadership in Education, Rexford, NY 12148. E-mail: Russell Quaglia is president and founder of the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations in Portland, Maine. Go to "The Personalization of Creative High School Scheduling" Go to "Rigorous Climbing at Kennesaw Mountain" Go to  "8 Conditions That Make a Difference"

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