Performing a Needs Assessment or Gap Analysis

Use data to analyze gaps in student learning and create a personalized learning plan for students
42 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

There are bound to be gaps in students' learning when we return to the classroom after the summer. This strategy will help you use data to analyze gaps in students' learning and develop a tiered response to address students' needs. It will also support you in understanding priority standards for the students in your class, give you ideas to restructure your classroom to meet the needs of all students, and communicate clearly with families about students' progress.

Implementation Steps for Teachers

  1. Administer the assessments that your school or district has selected to help you gain a deeper understanding of gaps in students' skills, content knowledge, or mastery of standards. For example, many districts use iReady, Star Math/Reading, MAP etc. It might be helpful to also consult students' end-of-year assessments from their previous grade level. Consult the Better Lesson strategy Pre-Assess with a Purpose for more ideas about how to use pre-assessments. 

  2. Consult the template Performing a Needs Assessment/Gap Analysis. Use data to sort students into three groups: students at risk or behind, students on track, and students who are ready for more. For secondary teachers who teach a lot of students, consider using this template for each class that you teach. Read the BetterLesson strategy Using Data to Group Students for more ideas. 

    • In addition, use the data to help you gain a deeper understanding of what standards or content knowledge your students have mastered and where they need more support. This process can help you identify what content needs to be re-taught to the whole class, what topics can be reviewed in small groups, or what individual students need support on key standards. Consult the second page of the Performing a Needs Assessment/Gap Analysis template. 

  3. Create personalized mid-year and end-of-year goals for each group of students. When doing so, consider students' current skill level, where you hope they will be mid-year, and what is realistic for them to achieve by the end of the year. Use the BetterLesson strategy Planning from Assessments using Backwards Design to engage in this planning. 

  4. Establish a plan for how to help all students meet their goals. If you are conducting a needs assessment or gap analysis after learning has been significantly disrupted for all students, you may need to implement more intensive interventions to get all students caught up. Some ideas to think about restructuring your class could be: 

    • Creating a mastery-based class where students can move at their own pace through the skills and standards of the class. Consult the Better Lesson strategies Progress and Mastery Tracking and Systems of Assessment to Demonstrate Mastery below.  

    • Providing one day a week (or more) for students to practice the standards or skills that they have not yet mastered. For example, four days a week could resemble what your class usually looks like, and the fifth day would be structured so that students could choose the skills they want to practice. Consult the Better Lesson strategy Yoda Master Self-Paced Assessments for more ideas. 

    • Embedding common missing skills or content knowledge into your daily lessons. For example, creating a plan for your warm-ups/do-nows to help students practice the skills that they need. 

    • Creating a blended classroom, where students are able to do some of their learning through digital tools. While students are working independently, you can pull students 1:1 or in small groups to reteach content or provide mini-lessons on skills. Consult the Better Lesson strategy Designing Group Stations for Station Rotations for more on how to set up stations to support student learning. 

  5. Plan goal-setting conferences with students. A key element of student success will be students taking ownership over their goals and learning plan. Create time to meet with students 1:1 to discuss the skills and standards they have mastered and need to master, their goals, and a plan to help them achieve their goals. Also, consider a schedule that would allow you to continue to meet with students 1:1 throughout the school year to help students reflect on their progress. For example, students could create goal reflections weekly or monthly using a Google Form or a FlipGrid. Use the strategy Goal Setting and Reflection to find goal setting templates for students to use. 

  6. Communicate students' learning plans to families. Particularly if a student is considerably behind to start the year, collaborate with the students' families to create a strong partnership to get the student back on track. Using these plans and students' progress toward their goals can become a powerful tool throughout the year to share with families.

Implementation Steps for School Leaders

As a school leader, it's important to provide resources and structure for teachers to analyze student data, as well as to communicate clearly with families about school-wide initiatives. 

Implementation steps:

  1. Select assessments for teachers to use. If these are new assessments, help teachers get familiar with the assessment as well as how to administer it to students. 

  2. Create a structure for teachers to collaborate together, specifically to look at student assessment data. Provide protocols, meeting agendas, and other resources if necessary. Consult the Better Lesson strategies Building a Professional Learning Community and Establishing Goals and Roles for Professional Learning Communities. 

  3. Support clear communication with families about school-wide initiatives to support all learners. For example, if your school has changed your schedule to allow for a "What I Need" period or an intervention period, make sure that families understand this shift and know who they can contact with questions.

Implementation Steps for Instructional Coaches

Instructional coaches play a pivotal role in helping teachers use data to create specific goals for their students. 

Implementation steps:

  1. Help teachers analyze their student data, set goals for their students, and create plans for their students. Consider supporting teachers to create three tiers of student goals: goals for students significantly at risk, goals for students at some risk/on level, and goals for students who are ready for more. Alternatively, help teachers create goals for specific students who need intervention. 

  2. In your coaching sessions, use these goals as a touchstone to help the teacher design instruction to meet the goals of the students. Consult the strategies Defining Your Role as a Coach, which can be found in the BetterLesson Lab, and Planning for a Successful Launch of Coaching, which is linked below, for more ideas. 

  3. Provide systems of organization, examples of how to restructure a class, or other resources to teachers. 

  4. Spotlight teachers who are trying innovative approaches to meeting the needs of all students. Consider sharing the teacher's strategies with colleagues in your school or district. 

EL Modification

For English Learners, consider the following: 

  • Consider administering many informal assessments to gain a full picture of English Learners' strengths and gaps. See the resource below on using informal assessments. 

  • Perform a 1:1 speaking and listening assessment to evaluate students' skills or consider students creating voice recordings using Vocaroo, FlipGrid, or Loom to record themselves speaking. See the resource below for how to use Listenwise with ELs. 

  • Ensure that your classroom is language-rich, with anchor charts, sentence stems, and word walls. This will help students make quicker language progress.

  • Communicate with families about how they can support students' language growth at home.

Special Education Modification

For students with disabilities, consider the following: 

  • Make sure that you are able to provide all appropriate testing accommodations when administering the initial needs assessment. Collaborate with the special educator for support in both understanding each student's accommodations as well as implementation of the accommodations. 

  • When creating goals for your students, consult students' goals in their IEPs. Work with the special educator to align your content-specific goals to the students' individual learning goals. Consult the Better Lesson strategy "Unpacking an IEP to Support Students to Meet their Goals" in the BetterLesson Lab. 

  • Clearly communicate with families about students' strengths and gaps and the plan to help students make progress. Ensure that both parents and the special educator collaborate to help create a strong plan for the student.

A Culturally Responsive Approach to Analyzing Assessment Data

Analyze the assessment itself, as well as student data, with a critical lens. 

  • Analyze the assessment that you give with a critical lens. What knowledge or skills would students need to have in order to do well on this assessment? How were ELs able to access the assessment? Is this assessment truly representative of what students can do and what students know? 

  • As you look at your data, analyze it with a critical lens as well. What is the demographic makeup of the students who are most at risk? What is the demographic makeup of the students who are excelling? Be aware of trends and patterns that may start to emerge. 

  • As you design instructional models to address students' achievement, do so with an anti-bias approach. Be aware of creating new systems that may further segregate a population or exclude a group of students from learning opportunities.

Questions to Consider

  • How can students self-assess on a mastery map and create their own learning goals and learning plan? 

  • How can I utilize technology and a blended classroom to help meet the needs of all learners and fill the gaps in instruction? 

  • How can students support each other, through peer mentoring or standards-based tutors, to achieve mastery?

Coach Tips

Caitlin MacLeod-Bluver
BetterLesson Instructional Coach
  • Give yourself ample time to dig into data. The beginning of the year is always a busy time, but setting aside time to explore student data will help you and your students in the long-run. 

  • Don't look at student data alone. If you don't have a PLC, ask a colleague to explore assessment data. Another set of eyes and a different perspective can be a powerful tool. 

  • Hold yourself accountable to the goals you create for students. It is easy to set lofty goals at the beginning of the year and then forget about them as the year gets busier and busier. Create a plan for how you will monitor student progress throughout the year and when you will administer assessments. 

  • When starting conversations with families of a student who is significantly behind, make sure you highlight that students' strengths as well. Building a strong partnership with the family will be a key to the students' academic success. Starting the year on a positive note is key.

Tech Tools

Google Documents

  • Google Docs is an online word processor (part of Google Apps) that allows you store, create and edit documents collaboratively in a web browser. 

  • Use Google Docs to track student progress and share with special educators or language specialists. 


  • Vocaroo is a free web based tool that allows for the recording and sharing of audio with the simple push of a button.

  • Use Vocaroo as an informal assessment tool for ELs to record themselves speaking. 


  • Loom is an easy and free screen recorder that allows students to record their camera and screen with audio directly from their Chrome browser. 

  • Use Loom as an informal assessment tool for ELs to record themselves speaking. 


  • Flipgrid is a video discussion platform great for generating class discussion around topics, videos, or links posted to the class grid. Students can video record their responses to share with the teacher or class. 

  • Use FlipGrid as an informal assessment tool for ELs to record themselves speaking.

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the following resources were consulted:

  • McCawley, Paul F. Methods for Conducting an Educational Needs Assessment: Guidelines for Cooperative Extension System Professionals. University of Idaho Extension.
  • Best Practices for School Improvement Planning. Hanover Research. October 2014.