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.

  • Real Teacher

    I am embarrassed by this article and the people at this school should be fired. The folks at NEA should be ashamed for publishing the article. Was this a study with a control group? What is the evidence of any gap closing? What was the assessment. This school created the problem in the first place. Instead of giving the kids book floods they were stuck on skill-drill-kill. The solution is more? This is a very harmful approach in the long run. Kids lag, the longer they are delayed from becoming book loving citizens.
    I am also sad to see this school thinks kids are simply test pilots or circus animals trained to perform on tests. Shame. The claim of any gap closed is quite questionable. Is this the 17 day diet? Time to stop the games.

  • FormerTeacher

    Closing a gap for almost every student in just 17 days? More silly, feel-good nonsense which only hurts, not helps. One word: Fabrication.

    I blame Obama.

  • Michael Waters

    You can also learn a foreign language in 10 days. It must be true; I read it on the internet.

  • Christina B.

    Interesting concept! And to “Real Teacher”, the article nor the school administrators said it was a study with a control group or anything like that. It is simply two schools working and thinking outside the box to best meet the needs of their students. There is a polite way to ask for more information about the assessments used, data that shows the gap was closed, etc.

  • Irene

    This story is not a fabrication. I work at the school and amazing things are happening. Our staff doesn’t drill and kill, infact quite the opposite. We are focused on collaboration, culture, and meaningful use of relevant data. We empower our students with lessons about ‘growth mindset’, help students set goals, and then monitor and adjust as we go. Contact us if you want to learn more. We welcome collaboration with all educators!

  • Ellen

    The level of cynicism in this comment thread is disheartening. Frankly it is bad enough when those outside the profession bash teachers -so it is disgraceful to witness when teachers do it on their own Union webpage. I worked with this staff for nearly three years. I watched their pain and struggle addressing the fact that they needed to interupt the cycle of failure for their students. They did it first by getting honest about their cultural understanding. They also collectively and courageously decided that yes -some data are important. They used a few key data points as an early warning system. Those are the data that they focused concentrated efforts on. That is how they systematically diagnosed and filled gaps in teaching and learning. They did this not to kill the love of reading but to grow as many fluent and joyful readers as possible. It is not a story that could happen everywhere and no one is suggesting that. However these professionals did it – they interrupted failure for these kids in a way no one else had been able to and they deserve your respect, please. Question to understand – not undermine.

  • Naomi Petersen

    I’m with Christina B., Irene, and Ellen. I think the buttons for like/dislike must be disabled for this thread. Those three would get green thumbs up from me.

  • Nikole

    I’m interested in the logistics. Who was on the intervention team? When did this flooding occur in the school day?

  • Wow

    “Real Teacher” – the only thing you should be embarrassed by is the way you have conducted yourself here on the comments section of the NEA website. How dare you personally attack the teachers, coaches, educational assistants and students who have worked so hard this year. “The people at this school should be fired” – Wow, I’m in disbelief. I cannot believe the negativity and disrespect coming from a supposed “Real Teacher.”

  • Corina

    I’m proud to work at this school and we work hard for our kids. I really wish people would ask additional questions rather than accuse us of drill and kill. Come visit us and you’ll see for yourself! !

  • Val

    I am another teacher proud to work at this school. I am especially proud to work with such dedicated, caring individuals. They push their students – not for test scores – but because they truly want their students to succeed and feel successful. It’s a wonderful, powerful place to work, and the students are thriving!

  • Barbara Frank

    I hope you will continue the discussion on the NEA GPS Network http://www.gpsnetwork.org in the Closing the Achievement Gap group. Upload resources you believe others will benefit from and join the discussion. We all need to continue to learn from each other.


  • Sandra

    REAL TEACHER sounds like a typical negative teacher that hasn’t a clue what teaching is all about. Part of a teacher’s job is to teach children to READ! These children were already displaying difficulty in reading while in the second grade. These teachers recognized this very important issue (if you can’t read you will live in poverty for the rest of your life, unless you marry a very wealthy person)and decided to tackle the problem head-on before the children are pushed through the educational system without getting that very important piece of their education. Bravo to them for taking the initiative to help these students overcome whatever it was that was holding them back from reading. They are now very well prepared for the Third grade and for a fighting chance at a good productive life. For some reason, REAL TEACHER has a problem with this. She is stuck on proper data and control groups instead of the success of a team of really REAL teachers in helping their kids in that most important educational basic called “READING”! REAL TEACHER needs to take a course on what it means to be a teacher.

  • JD

    REAL TEACHER, ask yourself, is it ETHICAL to have a control group in such a dire situation? I personally believe that control groups are truly necessary for progress, but wouldn’t previous years at said school be THE BEST control group? All of the data is already there. Changing ONE variable at a time makes the most sense in education.

    Truth told, leaving kids behind in the name of a scientific control group is unethical. Just stop.

  • Pam M.

    Did the school merely use AimsWeb or Dibels to determine which kiddos were behind because they weren’t fluent? What was specifically done to move kids to grade level in 17 days? What techniques, programs, etc.?? Please let us in on the secret. I’m not being sarcastic. If the only problem was lack of reading during vacation, I believe change can happen that quickly with lots of supported reading at an appropriate level. If the children are truly struggling (lacking basic reading skills, i.e. phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, vocabulary, etc.), I have a hard time grasping how change can happen that fast. I am a Title I Intervention Specialist with over 15 years experience and have had extensive training and a Masters in Reading and haven’t ever exited a student in 17 days who truly needed help in the first place. I have brought kids to grade level when they came to me in 6th grade reading at pre-primer level and exited them in 8th at grade level with over ten measures to prove it, but 17 days…….

  • L.B.C.

    I am so excited every time I hear about teachers working together to raise student achievement. There is rarely time for such collegial cooperation. Too bad it takes desperation efforts to give us the planning time and sharing time we need ALL of the time! That alone could help with the “gap” issue.

    How are the ARTS programs at that school? At our school, some of the poor RTI students were required to sacrifice choir and band or an art class to work with the RTI instructors. (Yes, we are some of the lucky ones who still HAVE band and choir!) This may not seem like a big deal but I can tell you that those children love music and art and it is often the place where some of the neediest children find real success and joy in the school day. Further, research shows that music and art SUPPORT what is happening in the other academic areas. But the worst is holding a child in from recess or gym. Children need time to run and laugh and play. Taking that away to drill RTI is just wrong on so many levels.

    If I may work a bit further with the flood analogy…when something is flooded …something often gets washed away! What is expendable in the education of a child? Let us be cautious about quick fixes. A slow, steady approach that keeps the WHOLE CHILD in mind might be better. It may take more than 17 days, but a slower, balanced approach may last longer and does not deny the child an education that seeks to help find success in multiple areas.

    I will be interested to see how this pushed approach to learning pans out in several years. Hot-house flowers do not smell as fragrant as those allowed to bloom naturally. I was a very late bloomer…not reading until around 4th Grade. Much to the frustration of my teachers and parents ( both educators with advanced degrees) I plodded through in the lowest reading group and the most remedial of Math groups. But in time…and it was my own time… I learned how important reading was…and then how fun it was. As an adult I am an avid reader with three or four books going at once. Had I been forced to do with these kids are doing I wonder if that would be the case. Although I was pushed I was remarkably resistant!

    And while we are talking about reading…and I’m sure it’s an issue of time in the day…
    What ever happened to reading aloud in class? One of the reasons I fell into reading was hearing my teacher read…in her marvelous and expressive voice. She took me where my faltering skills could not and showed me…just by reading to us…what you could discover in a book.

    I get that children need the “skills” to move ahead…but there is so much more to learning and to a child… While a applaud the 17 day achievement of these dedicated educators, I can’t help but wonder at the consequences of our actions as we try to “flood” our way to success.

  • Katie

    Three things:
    1) I applaud any educator that can reduce an achievement gap no matter how slight. Bravo!
    2) In my many years of experience as an educator, there is no such thing as a control group. Students, teachers, administrators and even parents are instant Guinea Pigs for whatever the local, state or federal government wants to throw at us. The only people I know that would use control groups are those who study education, not those who teach it.
    3) Remember, we are all on the same team working toward the same goal. You wouldn’t allow your students to do this, would you?

  • Another WA state real teacher…

    Instead of dumping on the dissenters, I beg the teachers and staff at this school to provide the experiences, results and process that helps this occur in 17 days and silence them that way. While it sounds amazingly unifying for the staff and empowering to both students and families..it leaves the readers with many questions and hope…but what exactly was the process in a step by step break down?

    No sarcasm, negativity, just eagerness to understand and possibly reproduce with my colleagues and students.

    1. Identify the struggling student(s)
    2. Identify the area that needs intervention with these student(s)
    3. Employ the RTI tool kit and resources to address reading strategies
    4. Other at home or in community steps that occurred?
    5. What did the day look like? In regards to other core subjects, were they set aside during these 17 days to do intensive intervention?
    6. What were the other students doing while teacher met with struggling students 4x per week for 40 mins?
    7. Does this school or grade have access to para-educators or teaching assistants?
    8. How as the community/family involved outside/inside of school during this flooding process?
    9. What assessment tool(s) did they use to measure student growth?
    10. How did students evaluate their own progress using other than RTI tools?

    Continue to applaud the efforts of public education for without it…imagine…we have a lot to complain about and lots to question…but if the hope is to conspire to succeed, we must first understand…providing more details in this article and links to RTI tools would also be helpful for educators and families with questions.

  • I also teach at a Title 1 school and I am eager to learn of the strategy and resources used to close the gap. Providing data would have made the claim more credible. I would like to duplicate,if possible.