Conducting a Gap Analysis

Holly Elmore
Holly Elmore
Elementary school principal; M.A.Ed. in Educational Leadership, M.A. in Special Education
A keyboard with a green key that reads ‘gap analysis’.

Common buzzwords fly around in education as though a swarm of hornets have been thrust out of their hive and the understanding is often lost in translation. The word “gap” could be the queen bee of buzzwords. So, what does it mean to have an educational gap, close the gap, or define gap groups?

A gap in education can come from two different perspectives. There are students who perform below grade-level standards – meaning they do not have the skills or knowledge to meet expectations, and there is a gap in their knowledge. There are also instructional gaps. The state law indicates all students will receive instruction based on the state-adopted standards, so teachers create pacing guides, curriculum maps, and lesson plans based on that information.

The intended instruction does not always translate into implemented instruction or the actual instruction that takes place in the classroom. As a result, there are standards that students do not have the opportunity to learn due to extended time out of school, interruptions to schedules, or responsive teaching practices, and, as a result, instructional gaps manifest. So, what do we do to identify those gaps? We conduct a gap analysis, of course.

What is an Instructional Gap Analysis?

There is a process that educators may follow in order to identify the gaps in instruction that students have acquired as they move from one grade level to another. If we never address those gaps, students may have faults in their foundation, creating a shaky basis for building their knowledge and skills. Conducting an instructional gap analysis become imperative in order for a school to know what students have been taught and to be able to fill in the gaps in their learning.

Where do I begin?

In order to complete a gap analysis, you will need access to the standards, a pacing guide, lesson plans from the previous year, and/or a colleague who taught the previous grade. (On a side note, if teachers do not have common planning or do not plan together, this task is much greater because you would have to consider that students could have been taught different standards and are potentially missing different pieces of information. Common planning is a great tool to advocate for, if possible!)

In an ideal situation, this would be a building-level activity; however, if an administrator doesn’t provide this time for staff members, it is still imperative to consider what gaps your students may have before moving through your standards.


Beginning with the standards, look to insure all of the previous standards were included on the pacing guide. Some gaps are created because all of the standards are intended to taught. Once you know all of the standards have the potential and place to be addressed, you look to see which standards were actually taught based on the lesson plans.

Conversations with colleagues will help you to understand if a standard was taught to mastery or only introduced. I encourage teachers to discuss strategies utilized for instruction and what misconceptions students had.

Once you have analyzed which standards were taught, you look to see if any standards were not addressed in the curriculum in the previous year. There are two ways to address these gaps. If they are standards that were intended to be taught to mastery in the previous year and they were not, you will have add the standards at the beginning of the year and teach those to mastery; however, that can be very time consuming and create a greater gap the next year because you may not get the opportunity to deliver content to the intention of your standards for the current year, and over time, you will have lost chunks of instruction.

Another way to address the content is through pre-assessments to know which students need more instruction to get to mastery and those who have mastered the standard. For those students who need additional strategies, this could be a skill or content that could be addressed through an intervention time. If the standard is one that is introduced in the previous grade level but is not mastered or continued to be built upon in your current standards, then you can extend your intended lesson to include an introduction to the standard before you move into the grade-level learning. Regardless of the method you choose, students need a firm foundation in the power standards and the skills they will expand upon throughout their learning path.

How do I conduct a student gap analysis?

Students are different than standards, for obvious reasons, and how we address the gaps in student achievement require a different lens. Much like the instructional gap analysis, to consider what students know and don’t know, you should have a map of the standards and student mastery data.

If your school isn’t there yet, as an educator, I implore you to keep track of how your students are performing on standards. This task becomes much easier when you can look across a student’s performance and know if they are performing at mastery or not.

For our process, we identify the standard and learning target we are teaching each day. Through formative assessment, we track student performance. A student’s performance on the standard determines if they are green, yellow, or red on that particular standard, which also defines our next steps for small group, intervention, or enrichment planning, depending on how you instruct students.

What data do I use to make decisions about gaps?

Formative assessment data will provide you with in the moment performance data. For my teachers, they are given an option to assess each learning target each day and report daily. The other option is to provide instruction all week and give a formative assessment on Friday with each learning target identified on the assessment, and then report at the end of the week.

This is a preference for teachers. At the end of the week, as an administrator, I have the data available for my review, and I can plan conversations that need to occur prior to the next week’s instruction. Other sources of data are anecdotal records (running records, observations, etc.), universal screeners, end-of-course assessments, and pre-assessments, which all provide information to help see where students have gaps in their learning to help us to provide the best instruction for students.

Next Steps

Gap analysis, whether you are considering student performance data or instructional, are beneficial to determine how teachers can accelerate learning and grow students to the best of their abilities. The time we have with students is critical, and there is no place for wasting time with teaching skills and content that are lacking a foundation on which to grow. Making this a part of your teacher toolbox will help you to quickly become a master teacher who knows curriculum and students.

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