Look What This School Did in 17 Days to Close Achievement Gaps

Thirty-five miles north of Seattle sits the merged campus of Quil Ceda and Tulalip Elementary schools. The schools are on the Tulalip Indian Reservation and, together, serve just over 500 students of which 63 percent are American Indian and a majority receives free or reduced-price lunch.

When about 50 percent of the schools’ second graders were losing ground on reading fluency, a decision was made to “flood” second graders with support. The results were a torrent of good news—the gap closed for almost every student in just 17 days.

Co-administrators of these schools, Anthony Craig and Kristin DeWitte, have a vision for their school community.

“We want to catch [achievement] gaps before they begin,” says DeWitte. “Our expectation is that each student makes a year or more growth each year.”

Craig explains that what was happening in early January, however, was the beginning of a gap that would continue to grow over time for students. Evidence showed that some students were not fluent readers because they had word attack gaps. Others were not making meaning in the text, and, therefore, reading at a much slower pace and some did not understand or have enough practice with the six dimensions of fluency.

“We knew we needed to get students back on track quickly and keep them reading fluently,” he says.

School data teams analyzed information at individual and school levels. They grouped students based on needs and set goals for acceleration over six- to eight-week cycles. Teachers shared learning strategies with comprehensive data in-hand, and they were empowered to try innovative ideas, such as the concept of “flooding,” or devoting all resources to one grade level to meet a specific learning target.

Previously, a group of Tulalip teachers had attended a workshop on Response to Intervention (RTI) practices and were introduced to the idea of flooding from the “RTI Guy,” Pat Quinn—author of the nation’s largest newsletter dedicated to helping teachers implement RTI.

Normally, students receive equal amounts of intervention time, but Quinn had suggested gaps close when instruction is directed to student needs, provided by trained staff, and monitored over a set amount of time.

With those three elements in mind, the school’s flooding team was created, and, together, the group determined a set of teaching points and learning targets that allowed them to plot lessons onto a calendar, giving them a timeframe of 17 days.

It also gave them a sense of urgency that served as a catalyst to explore “gap closing” instruction in a safe and highly effective way.

Day one of intervention showed students struggling to read at grade level and teachers who were frustrated because they were using every thing in their school system to support students, but not seeing the desired outcomes.

That is until they started to flood their second graders.

The team met with their assigned students four times a week for 40 minutes. Students were provided with intentional, focused, and small group instruction.

Seventeen days later, a school culture was changed: readers recognized their own growth and increasing proficiency; teachers understood the power of collaboration that lead to improved student achievement.

“We know theoretically that all students can perform at high levels. What flooding taught me is that with the right resources, intentional planning and targeted instruction, the results can be achieved virtually overnight,” says DeWitte.

The notion that public education in the United States runs like the pony express is an idea that is dated. From coast to coast, educators—like those at Quil Ceda/Tulalip—are leading their profession by pushing boundaries to ensure student success.