What Is a Success Gap?

A success gap is a difference in one or more outcome measures between groups of children in a district or school. An identified success gap indicates that the educational program a district or school offers is not meeting the needs of all groups of children.

When success gaps are allowed to continue, these gaps often result in poor outcomes for children in the affected groups. These poor outcomes may include the following:

  • Increased dropout and lower graduation rates
  • Lack of achievement in reading or math
  • Decreased postschool outcomes such as employment rates and college completion
  • Increased likelihood of disciplinary actions
  • Increased likelihood of identification of a disability

The toolkit uses the term “children” to apply to preschool children through secondary-age students.

Gaps can exist between different racial/ethnic groups or relate to factors such as disability, English learner status, low income, migrant status, and other factors. Addressing success gaps requires a close look at issues of equity, inclusion, and opportunity. It is important to conduct this in-depth analysis across all groups of children throughout a school or district, especially those struggling academically or behaviorally.

Who Should Use the Success Gaps Toolkit?

The IDEA Data Center (IDC) developed the materials and resources in the Success Gaps Toolkit to support district or school leaders in conducting a root cause analysis when there are inequitable outcomes among groups of students or success gaps. Root cause analysis is the process of discovering the root causes of problems in order to identify appropriate solutions. By taking a closer look at their educational system to prevent or address problems such as success gaps, district or school leaders work to ensure an equitable education for all children.

There are three goals for engaging in this process:

  1. To discover the root cause of a success gap
  2. To fully understand how to address, compensate, or learn from any underlying issues within the root cause
  3. To apply what is learned from this analysis to systematically prevent future issues
Examples of How States, Districts, and Schools May Use the Toolkit
  • A state education agency (SEA) may use the materials to help a district focus on success gaps and their causes within the district. Some states will use the materials as part of their work with underperforming districts, districts with school climate challenges, or districts identified with disproportionality.
  • Districts or schools may use the materials if their state’s accountability system identified the district or school as needing improvement. Such areas for improvement include low academic performance or a specific achievement gap between groups of children.
  • Even without the SEA involvement, districts or schools may also use the materials when they have identified a need for improvement and a success gap between groups of children.

Toolkit Materials and Resources

The Success Gaps Toolkit includes materials and resources for helping a district or school address success gaps by identifying root causes and developing an action plan to reduce success gaps.

This approach focuses on improving systems and avoids the perception that children need “fixing,” instead centering responsibility on the systems in education (and other systems) that have failed to provide equitable opportunities for some groups of children, such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC); English learners; children with disabilities; or children experiencing poverty.

Examples of Materials Included in the Toolkit
  • Success Gaps Rubric: The materials and resources in this toolkit work in tandem to assist districts and schools in using the Success Gaps Rubric. Districts and schools can use this rubric to assist equity teams with their in-depth review of the district’s or school’s practices in delivering a high-quality instructional program for all children and to support identifying root causes of a success gap.
  • Priority Setting Tool: After completing the Success Gaps Rubric, equity teams can use this tool to summarize their findings and determine priority areas.
  • Facilitation tools: Customizable meeting agendas and corresponding PowerPoints: This toolkit contains customizable meeting agendas and corresponding PowerPoints for each step in the success gaps process that equity leads may use at meetings. These facilitation tools are fully customizable, as equity teams may need to combine meetings or split meetings into multiple sessions to accommodate the pace, information gathering, discussions, and decisionmaking of the group. These materials can be found in the right navigation bar under the resources tab titled facilitation tools.
    • Customizable agendas: For each meeting, there are two types of agendas: a facilitation agenda and an equity team agenda. When customizing one of these agendas, be sure to make the same changes in the other agenda.
      • Facilitation agenda (indicated by a green header): The facilitator and other equity team leads can use the facilitation agenda to prepare for and plan meetings. This agenda includes the suggested activities and materials needed as well as notes or suggestions for facilitating the group. Preparing a thorough facilitation agenda helps meeting leaders think through the details of the entire session.
      • Equity team meeting agenda (indicated by a blue header): The equity team meeting agenda should be shared with all participants in the meeting. This succinct agenda provides participants with the topics addressed during the meeting and includes a proposed time frame and activities. Leaders provide this type of agenda to team members to share information efficiently and provide scope for the discussion.
    • Corresponding PowerPoints: For each meeting agenda, a PowerPoint is available that corresponds to that step in the success gaps process. Facilitators and equity team leads can customize these PowerPoints with their team-specific data or other information.
  • Success Gaps Handbook: The Success Gaps Handbook, which provides the same materials and resources that are included with the Success Gaps Toolkit but in a printable format, provides background information about the toolkit and Success Gaps Rubric and other supplemental information. The handbook may be downloaded and printed but is not customizable.
  • Additional supporting resources: These resources will help you to dig deeper into the issues that may contribute to success gaps and equity in general to support your work in addressing success gaps.

All of the materials and resources included throughout the toolkit are available in one convenient location on the Resources and Downloads page.

View Resources

The Initial Success Gap Statement

Defining (1) the particular groups of children affected and (2) the specific outcome area are essential first steps that district and school leaders should take to identify any success gaps. Once district or school leaders identify a success gap, they can then develop an initial success gap statement that a team of stakeholders—referred to throughout this process as the equity team—will later refine.

A success gap statement is a clear statement that summarizes the important information about the success gap for which the equity team will be working to identify underlying root causes. The initial success gap statement should contain three key pieces of information: (1) the group(s) of children, (2) the outcome area, and (3) the supporting data.

Examples of Initial Success Gap Statements
  • In Elm County, Native American children are 50% less likely than their peers to test proficient in English language arts and mathematics at all tested grade levels.
  • In River City Schools, White children are 4 times as likely as children of other races and ethnicities to be identified with autism.
  • In a Jasper County preschool program, children with disabilities who are Black develop social/emotional skills comparable to same-age peers at a rate that is 50% that of White children.
  • In Lee County Schools, English learners with disabilities are 3.5 times as likely as non-English learners with disabilities to be placed in a separate school.
  • In Wilson County, the high school graduation rate for children who are economically disadvantaged is the lowest in the state and is less than half the rate of the county’s noneconomically disadvantaged children.

The Success Gaps Toolkit Process

Once district or school leaders have identified an initial success gap, they are ready to engage in the root cause analysis process outlined in the Success Gaps Toolkit, working through these steps:

  1. Assemble an appropriate team
  2. Prepare and share data about success gaps
  3. Determine actionable root cause(s)
  4. Create an action plan
  5. Implement plan and monitor progress

Success Gaps Steps Descriptions

  • Success Gap graphic: displays a circle with five different icons. Clockwise from the top, a highlighted group of people; a checklist; a magnifying glass; a route with a pin dropped at one end; and a three people with a graph line extending diagonally up.

    Assemble an Appropriate Team

    Identify a representative group of individuals willing to invest in addressing long-standing systemic inequities in the district or school.

    Learn More
  • Success Gap graphic: displays highlighted icon of a checklist

    Prepare and Share Data About the Success Gaps

    Prepare and share multiple sources of data in advance about the success gap to uncover details needed to refine your success gap statement.

    Learn More
  • Success Gap graphic: displays highlighted icon of a magnifying glass

    Determine Actionable Root Cause(s)

    Dig deeply into the data to identify and validate root causes of the success gap and prioritize actionable root causes through use of the Success Gaps Rubric, other data sources, and discussion at team meetings.

    Learn More
  • Success Gap graphic: displays highlighted icon of a route with a pin dropped at one end

    Create an Action Plan

    Develop an action plan that describes goals, tasks, and timelines for addressing the actionable root cause(s).

    Learn More
  • Success Gap graphic: displays highlighted icon of a route with a three people with a graph line extending diagonally up

    Implement Plan and Monitor Progress

    Implement the plan and monitor progress on an ongoing basis using data and the team to revise as needed.

    Learn More
Helpful Resources

Additional Resources

To find resources to support the facilitation of a success gaps meeting about the topics found on this page, see Facilitation Tools on the Resources and Downloads page.

Up Next:
Assemble an Appropriate Team

Identify a representative group of individuals willing to invest in addressing long-standing systemic inequities in the district or school.