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[Research] Student Academic Growth in State Educational Accountability Systems

[Research] Student Academic Growth in State Educational Accountability Systems

Detailing students’ academic growth is one of the primary concerns in the field of education. Growth models allow educators to see how much students have progressed, determine if students are on track to meet goals, and see relative standing given previous year’s achievements. This discussion of students’ academic growth is also closely tied to educational policies related to teacher effectiveness and school accountability.

In a recent Edmentum research study titled State-Level Student Growth Strategies, we provide descriptions of commonly used growth models and information about school accountability systems to examine how the growth models contribute to the system. For this blog post, we’ve synthesized some of that work to help illustrate the value of growth strategies in state accountability measures, and we include examples of models found across 20 different U.S. states.

How do growth models contribute to accountability systems?

Accountability systems are planned and implemented by a state education agency to comply with legislative requirements based on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015. The main purpose of the law is to make sure that schools provide a high-quality education for all students. The U.S. Department of Education requires states to have long-term goals for improving student achievement which are measured by the annual state assessments.

The ESSA provides states with some flexibility in state accountability models by including language that affords measures beyond the state assessments, including growth metrics. As part of that, the law requires each state to choose at least five ways to measure school performance but offers some choice in which measures are selected. The following chart shows where the growth model for measuring academic progress fits into accountability systems under the ESSA. Each state’s academic growth model(s) serve as an indicator for measuring academic progress. Some states have adopted one or more of the currently available growth models, and some are considering developing new models. The growth results at the student-level are aggregated at the teacher, school, or district level and reported as evidence of school accountability and educator evaluation.

Academic growth models used at the state level

We investigated documents (such as technical reports and presentation materials) together with web-based resources on state education agency websites across the following 20 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The period of the investigation was from March to May 2018.

From analysis work, we classified growth models into six different categories:

  • Gain-Score Model – Growth score is calculated based on the difference score between the initial and final tests. This model is used with pretests and posttests or vertically scaled tests.
  • Value-Added Model (VAM) – Growth score is calculated based on the difference between an observed achievement and an expected one at the student level (called value-added), and it is averaged by subject in a teacher’s classroom to measure the teacher effect.
  • Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) – Growth score is calculated based on the percentile of present test scores of students who have shown the same or similar results in academic achievement in prior tests.
  • Categorical Model – Growth score is calculated based on students’ changing performance levels on the state assessment from one year to the next.
  • Student Learning Objectives (SLO)/Portfolios – Student growth is described based on information on students’ learning needs, strengths, weaknesses, and test scores described by their teacher.
  • Residual Model – Student growth is calculated based on the difference between the observed value and any predicted line estimated using any regression model.

Which growth models are used in each state?

Because different growth models support different growth interpretation and data requirements, some states apply more than one growth model.

Key takeaways

Because different growth models provide different information in different situation, many states have multiple rating categories for growth measures. In other words, several growth models are commonly applied to complement each other. However, great validity and reliability in assessments are features of all growth models. The growth measures from these growth models are considered as one component among various performance measures in determining the success of schools, districts, and educators within any state accountability system. Also, these state growth measures are more likely to be reported at an aggregated level rather than the student level.

Interested in learning more about growth models in state educational accountability systems? Check out the executive summary of the research study covered in this blog!