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Growth Accountability Measures Continue Ascendency Under ESSA

April 21, 2017
Leo Doran
Inside Sources

Educators should be using more sophisticated growth or value-added measurements when assessing a school’s quality, rather than simply checking off whether students have reached proficiency, according to a growing number of educational experts.

The proficiency versus growth debate often veers into the technical, and is sufficiently confusing to have tripped up Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearing. But understanding the tradeoffs between the approaches to gauging student achievement is important for designing school rating systems that are fair and useful for parents, educators, and policy-makers.

A proficiency-based accountability system might evaluate a school based on how many of its 5th grade students are reading at a 5th grade reading level. The advantage of this system, according to proponents, is that it is easy to calculate success once a benchmark is established—either students score high enough to be deemed proficient or they don’t.

Under a growth system, a school might be rated based on how much progress 5th grade students make over their 4th grade scores during an academic year. The advantage of this system is that it arguably forces schools to focus their resources on all of their students more equitably, and is fairer to schools that service disadvantaged students. On the other hand, growth models tend to be more complex, making student progress more difficult to measure accurately.