All professions have their own language and terms specific to their business.  Education also falls into this category with a number of buzzwords and acronyms that school district use.  These terms go beyond definitions as they are multi-layered, research-based philosophies and approaches used to enhance student learning.  Here are some common phrases with their meanings currently being shared in hallways and opening ceremonies in school districts.

Common Core Standards

In 2009, states led a process to develop consistency throughout the country to have similar expectations for all students.  The underlying principle was for all students to be “college and career ready.”  As a result of this work, common expectations were created for Literacy and Mathematics for Kindergarten through grade 12.  Like any nationwide initiative, there are critics of the standards.  Some people feel it takes away from local education decisions, others feel the expectations may be too complex for children.  Other critics question the motivation for similar educational outcomes and the reliance of testing to measure students’ success.  However, the standards are a guide to assist schools as to what students are recommended to learn.  They do not mandate how it is to be learned.

Social/Emotional Learning (SEL)

In preparing students to be successful community members, schools need to go beyond academics.  Social and emotional learning is vital to establish caring, people who value themselves, the world around them and strive for improvement.  Whether deemed soft skills or emotional intelligence, SEL teaches the value of knowing how to understand yourself and those around you.  Students are able to communicate and cooperate more effectively and manage emotions in a productive manner. SEL also assists in students feeling safe, happy resulting in a more open, healthy learning atmosphere which yields enhanced student learning.

Equity (DEI – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion)

Current events continue to put a spotlight on the different treatment of people that lead to the systemic inequities with in our society.  Schools have played a role in creating and maintaining an unfair balance within our country.  Equity/DEI is the belief and approach that by encouraging representation from diverse groups of people, people are able to be their true selves and be successful.  It encourages the understanding of how race, culture, social orientations, religion, abilities and disabilities impact our surroundings.  DEI emphasizes that all students matter and learning environments are inclusive for all of its members.  Opening up students to a variety of views, resources and perspectives helps promote a fair, impartial environment allowing equal possible outcomes for everyone.  DEI work ranges from curricula changes to specific programs to understanding bias – all of which yield the understanding of how to make sure everyone is valued and can see themselves in their learning.

Achievement Gap

Using student data, including standardize assessment, schools often are able to identify that certain groups of students routinely achieve better results than others.  In particular, White students tend to outperform their Black classmates.  This disparity is referred to as the achievement gap and has existed in schools for a number of years and continues to be a significant difference.  While there is evidence that the achievement gap is slowly closing, it is still prevalent in schools across the United States.  Strategies to help close the achievement gap include clear expectations and standards for all students, more time for self-reflection, on-going analysis of student work, develop relationship with families and culturally relevant texts,   Both DEI and SEL are rooted in trying to improve the achievement of all students, but particularly those racial and ethnic groups that have historically struggled in school for years.

Response to Intervention (RTI)

While many students perform well in school there are always other students that need more support.  Response to Intervention is a multi-tier support to identify students that are having difficulty and applying strategies and interventions to help students make progress.  The RTI model has three tiers. Tier one is typical, high quality classroom instruction that all students need.  After reviewing student work and progress, if students are not meeting expectations, they move on to tier two support.  Tier two support includes extra, targeted instruction in small groups that directly support the student’s need.  If tier two is unsuccessful, students move to tier three which is even more intense and individualized teaching the child using scientifically researched based strategies.  This is a fundamental aspect also in helping identify students that may need special education.

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning is based on the foundation that since every student has their own interest, learning styles and preferences, instruction should cater to the choices and differing opportunities to explore.  As a result, students are successful, see the input they have in their own learning increasing their student engagement, a key indicator of the potential of student success.

Mastery-Based Grading

Mastery-based grading supports the notions of Personalized Learning  By utilizing Mastery Based Grading, students are even more inspired as student learning is reported on what they are able to do and how they measure up to specific benchmarks and standards as opposed to traditional grades that may include more arbitrary measures such as work completion, effort, participation and other criteria that do not get to the heart of students have actually learned.  Students receive clear graded feedback as to what they are able to accomplish

Collectively, all of these educational practices are unique and different, yet they overlap in a manner that can lead to greater student success.  Each technique demonstrates the exciting possibilities and nuances that make education an incredible process.  Finding the proper technique for students and teachers will assist in producing positive outcomes for all stakeholders.

*Updated August 2021