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I recently read an article about Growth and Proficiency by Aaron Churchill from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and it has caused quite a firestorm of phone calls and instant messages with colleagues and friends in the education world.  I know what I believe concerning the growth versus proficiency conversation, but it has caused hiccups with many people over the years, including Secretary DeVos during her confirmation hearings.  Here’s a great article that breaks that down.

I work in a world where we serve mostly high poverty schools with highly mobile student situations.  His point for the article is captured brilliantly in the title, “Unless they want to flunk virtually all high-poverty schools, policymakers should go for growth.”  Mr. Churchill makes some great points and uses Columbus, OH district schools as the example.

I recently got off the phone with a former teacher from the State of Texas who gave some great examples of why growth needs to be the key: “We as teachers want our students to grow.  Simply put, we want them to be farther along at the end of the year, than they were when we first got them.  Students are coming in behind because a teacher, school, or personal situation has caused them to get behind. I don’t want them to be held accountable to something that is unrealistic (proficiency) because it’s not possible to get to that level when they come in so far behind.  I just want to get them progressing and growing.”

This situation reminds me of a movie from my childhood, Cheaper by the Dozen.  The family has the first child, spends time loving on the baby, and encourages the baby to learn and grow while they watch him meet his proper milestones.  Over time, they decide to have a bunch of additional children and the older siblings become babysitters and taxi services.  The basic reminder of the film is that family and relationships are more important than the business of life.

Pulling this back in to the point of this article, the family, consistently met the basic needs of the family, but fails to progress each child to his maximum potential.  In other words, they met the basic proficiency marks of feeding, clothing, and keeping the kids relatively safe, but failed to focus on individual growth.  This relates so closely with our schools and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability metrics being submitted today.  Why do we continue to focus on proficiency?  Because it is just so simple.  Here is the mark for every grade, every year. You meet it or you do not meet it—period.  Easy.

It is more difficult to create a system that measures growth.  The critics will say, “You can’t possibly expect me to agree to having a senior come in at a 6th grade reading level and finish the year at an 8th grade level and jump and shout for joy.”  What?  Why not?  Isn’t that the goal of education, to get students to learn?  Two years of growth in one year is amazing—somebody give that teacher a raise!  However, I get your point, she is not yet post-secondary ready.  She is not effectively ready for college and career.

But I have an idea. How about we split the way we think of accountability?  What would happen if we held our schools and our teachers accountable at the state level with a growth metric? Then we can hold our students accountable (separate from school ratings) for a proficiency metric.  That way, the district or charter, school, and teachers are responsible for growing students every year.  I still feel like we can hold the student accountable for meeting the basic requirements however.  That kiddo can’t graduate until she’s passed the end of course/high school graduation test.  Both are accountable and students are growing and eventually meeting proficiency.  Status measures probably need to remain part of the accountability recipe, but do not need to be the main ingredient.

This causes the next issue in that schools are currently being held to a graduation rate requirement.  A graduation metric that credits a school for helping a student progress to graduation every year, rather than focusing only on the fourth year.  What if we moved away from a 4-year cohort arrangement and looked deeper at a 5 and 6-year requirement?  If the student is growing each year, the school will still be held accountable for that, but won’t necessarily be penalized for the effects of mobility and the many students who come in credit deficient and way behind where they should be for graduation.   Here is an infographic with additional Student Centered Accountability ideas pertaining to grad rate.


The beauty of Cheaper by the Dozen is that it ends with the family realizing it can change and the film ends with the family focusing back on the most important aspects of raising children and family.  Our states have been handed the incredible opportunity of re-creating their accountability model.  Legislators, please don’t take the easy way out. Look at a model that works for all: schools and teacher and the students.  Let’s move away from meeting the basic needs (proficiency) and focus on the maximum annual potential of students across the board (growth).


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