What is a success gap?

A success gap is a gap in educational outcomes between different groups of students. Gaps can be related to dropout and graduation rates, achievement in reading or math, post-school outcomes such as employment rates and college completion, rates of disciplinary actions, identification rates for disability, or others. Gaps can exist between different ethnic/racial groups or be related to other factors such as disability, English language learners, low income, migrant, and other factors. Success gaps often result in poor outcomes or lack of success for students in those affected groups. A success gap means that all groups of students are not being served equally well. Addressing success gaps requires a close look at issues of equity, inclusion, and opportunity.

Who should use
the toolkit?

The Success Gaps materials were developed for districts and schools. A state may use the materials with a district to identify success gaps and their causes within the local education agency (LEA). Some states will use the materials as part of their work with districts that are underperforming academically, have school climate challenges, or have identified disproportionality.

Schools or districts may use the materials if they have been identified through their state’s accountability system as a school or district in need of improvement, as low performing, or as having a gap in performance or achievement that needs to be addressed.

Districts can use the tools to take a closer look at their educational system to prevent success gaps and ensure equitable education for all students.


  1. Those who Have Identified Disproportionality
  2. States Collaborating with Districts
  3. Districts Identifying Success Gaps

How should the
toolkit materials
be used?

IDEA Data Center (IDC) developed the materials in this toolkit to assist districts and schools when using the Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity: Addressing Success Gaps, Indicators of Success Rubric based on their own context. However, districts and schools should follow some basic steps to have a valid root cause analysis and plan at the end of the process.

Using disaggregated local data to identify and target specific groups of students compared to other groups or all students in the district is important.

A team of stakeholders is critical to the integrity of the Success Gaps process.

Leadership is critical. Commitment and participation of leaders in the district or school will let others know the importance of this work and inspire active participation.

Using the Success Gaps materials is not a quick process. It will require the commitment of team members for multiple meetings over a period of time.


  1. Identify Target Groups and Compare to all Students in the District
  2. Leadership. Commitment. Participation.
  3. Multiple Meetings Over Time

What is in
the toolkit?

The toolkit will support the use of the Success Gaps white paper and rubric and includes materials and resources for facilitating a team through the process of identifying root causes for success gaps in a district or school and the development of an improvement plan.

Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity: Addressing Success Gaps, White Paper describes, based on research, the critical elements for high-quality education for all students. It also addresses critical elements for identifying and providing services to children who are eligible for special education.

Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity: Addressing Success Gaps, Indicators of Success Rubric provides an in-depth review of a district’s or school’s practices in delivering a high-quality instructional program for all students and helps identify root causes for a success gap in a group of children.

This toolkit also includes many other materials and resources to assist a school or district to conduct a root cause analysis and make a plan for reducing success gaps. Materials included are:

  • videos that define and give examples of success gaps;
  • customizable process and meeting agendas;
  • customizable presentation shell for each meeting; and
  • other support materials, such as improvement planning forms, meeting evaluation forms, reading materials to use with teams, and other Success Gaps presentations or stories.


  1. Rubrick and Whitepaper
  2. Instructional Videos
  3. Meeting Plans

Form a Team

Identify a team of individuals from the district or school and community who are interested in the problem and willing to make a commitment. Be sure this team includes:

  • parents and students representing the group that is experiencing success;
  • general education and special education teachers who work with the target group as well as those who work with the students experiencing success;
  • professional support staff, such as school psychologists, counselors, or others who provide support to struggling students;
  • district or school leaders with the authority to make change; and
  • community members, such as religious and civic organizations, who work with the struggling group, and local business representatives.

Invite the potential members to be a part of the team. Email each potential member and outline the time commitment (frequency and time) and what the success gap to be targeted will be. Send the potential team members a link to What is a Success Gap? to introduce the concept of success gaps.


  1. Identify Team of Individuals
  2. Instroduction to Success Gaps


The team will need some information and background about why they are being convened and the local success gap. Send one of the articles or books in the Additional Online Resources section for review ahead of time to illustrate the issue being addressed. The link to Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity: Getting Results by Addressing Success Gaps, Introduction to the Tools could be provided with a request for team members to review it prior to the first meeting.

Decide the location and duration of each meeting and estimate the number of meetings you will need. Set the dates for the meetings, reserve the location, and send the details to each team member who has agreed to join the team.

Prepare local data to present at the meeting. Gather the data that provide the rationale for a focus in this area.

Consider what data led you to determine the need to conduct this self-assessment. Consider all aspects of those data, both aggregated and disaggregated. Next, consider related data, how those data affect other data elements, and what those data look like. Develop data slides that show the data in a simple format that will be easy for all team members to interpret. Place the slides in a logical format that will tell your story and lead the team to understand where a success gap is occurring.

Prepare materials for the meeting: Review the agendas—both Process and Team Member. The presentation for each meeting also needs some personalization. Dates should be added, data slides inserted, and assignments and next meeting dates added.


As a team, study the relevant data prior to attempting to complete the rubric. Data should be both aggregated and disaggregated and reviewed for the identified reason for self-assessment. Team members may want to expand the data they are reviewing to determine how other results, such as graduation, dropout, achievement, disciplinary practices, and attendance, are related to the identified success gap.

Conduct the self-assessment with integrity by studying the rubric, then answering each question with complete frankness and honesty.

Ensure equitable participation so that all team members’ voices are heard and respected.

Provide evidence. Be sure to document the data supporting each response.

Always keep in mind the experiences of the group of students for whom there is a success gap in the school or district.


  1. Study Relevant Data
  2. Create a Safe Atmosphere for Frank and Open Discussions
  3. Provide Evidence
  4. Equitable Team Participation

Meeting 1:
Getting Started

Convene the team and introduce the purpose, the Success Gaps materials (white paper and rubric), and team members.

Consider showing the short introduction to the Success Gaps Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity: Getting Results by Addressing Success Gaps, Introduction to the Tools (located in the resources).

Prepare the presentation and agenda using the resources provided. Conduct the meeting and be sure to include all team members in the activities and the discussions about the data presented, rubric structure, and content. The atmosphere in the meeting should allow open and frank discussions. Everyone’s view is valued and respected.

Assign “homework” for the team: read the white paper and independently complete specific sections of the rubric before the next meeting.

The number of sections to be completed in each meeting is dependent on how much time is devoted to each meeting. If meetings are half day or whole day, more sections can be completed at one time and meeting agendas may be combined.


  1. Prepare Presentation and Agenda
  2. Team Discussion About Rubric
  3. Assign Homework

Meetings 2 – 4:
Delving Into the

Teams will complete all sections of the rubric in either two or three meetings, depending on time allowed for each meeting. The team will review and discuss the rubric sections that they completed independently and reach a group consensus on responses and evidence.

In preparation for the meeting, customize Agenda 2–4 (both Team Member and Process) to set the pace for the meeting. Be sure to select the correct sections of the rubric for review and assignments. Customize Presentation 2–4 for the meetings as needed.

During the meeting, the team may make recommendations for further data and/or information that may be needed to respond to some sections. Be sure to keep the tone of the meeting open and safe for frank discussions and active participation by all team members.

Be sure to assign the homework for the next meeting.


  1. Team Discussions
  2. Presentations 2-4 and Agenda 2-4
  3. Assign Homework

Meetings 5 – 6:
Developing a
Plan of Action

The team will identify the root causes by reviewing the rubric and identifying the areas of need for the district or school. The team will then prioritize the areas of need and determine which area or areas to address with an action plan. An action plan will be developed through one or two of these meetings.

Be sure to assign homework when appropriate.


  1. Team Discussions
  2. Presentations 5 & 6 and Agenda 5 & 6
  3. Assign Homework

Meeting 7 and
Ongoing: Reviewing
Implementation of
the Action Plan

Implementation and monitoring of the plan will assist in addressing the gaps in order to provide high-quality instruction for all students. The plan should be reviewed quarterly. Data and updated activities should be provided to the team to review and measure progress.

The team may recommend revisions or changes to the action plan as part of their review. The action plan can be integrated with other initiatives and activities that the district or school is undertaking.

The stakeholder team will continue to meet regularly to monitor the implementation of the action plan and review progress data to determine the effectiveness of the plan. Changes or additions to the plan may need to be made. The team will make these recommendations based on the data on implementation and the effect of the implementation.


  1. Team Discussions
  2. Presentation 7 and Agenda 7
  3. Assign Homework