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Making the Case for Growth and Proficiency

Making the Case for Growth and Proficiency

As education policy has evolved over the years, so too has the emphasis on proficiency versus growth. While proficiency reigned supreme under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), growth is elevated under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced NCLB as the nation’s main education law in 2015. With each pendulum swing and prevailing academic driver, teacher behaviors and student support are impacted. Here we’ll take a look at each measurement and consider the value each one brings.

Breaking down two models for measuring student achievement:


What happens when one measure outweighs the other?

For years, proficiency was king for measuring student success. Its singular threshold and simplicity made it easy to measure and uncomplicated for educators to understand. It also created consistency. After all, when a teacher executes against grade- or course-specific curriculum, there is a defined set of critical skills and content knowledge necessary for students to be able to demonstrate mastery. In this way, it is a valuable concept that supports aiming for and meeting a common expectation. But, with proficiency as a singular focus, a number of shortcomings were uncovered:

1. Does proficiency accurately reflect a teacher’s impact when it doesn’t consider students’ baseline knowledge?

2. What about those students who are severely struggling and don’t meet proficiency? Are their gains irrelevant?

3. What about those students who far exceed the desired expectations from the start? Is a model focused only on proficiency neglecting focus on supporting these accelerated students as they strive for greater achievement?

4. Is a fixed proficiency target developmentally appropriate for all learners?

Each of these critical questions resulted in a need for a more personalized measure of student success—one that encouraged educators to support individual learners, no matter where they fell on the proficiency spectrum. Growth became this newer measure. But, here’s the tricky part about growth: it’s complicated. Without the proper assessments and instructional resources, understanding exactly what students know and don’t know and meeting those needs—whether they align to the specific grade level the teacher is certified to teach or not—is a challenge. After all, when 25-plus students sit in front of teachers and they all have different needs, where do educators start? Armed with grade-level curriculum and little else, there are a lot of long hours, ingenuity, and grit required to claw back some of those longstanding gaps in knowledge. Additionally, educators are expected to do this AND still help students hit proficiency targets.

Fortunately, as the inequity of using proficiency as the singular measure for success continued to bubble up, so did critical advancements to educational approaches and resources. New innovations gave setting and persisting toward growth targets a fighting chance.

What elements are needed to make growth a reality?

1. Pre- and post-assessments that are valid and reliable are required in order to accurately identify students’ true starting points and specific gains over time with each successive administration

2. Grade-agnostic access to individualized curriculum is necessary to close skill gaps and accelerate learning for each student’s specific needs

3. Guidance for setting reasonable, yet rigorous, growth targets and research-based data is needed to chart progress against those goals

Access to quality educational technology has augmented and will continue to augment the learning process by arming educators with mission-critical tools to get the job done. With the introduction of computer-adaptive assessments that evaluate student understanding outside of just grade-level standards and those insights coupled with automatic delivery of individualized instruction, technology is creating time and space for educators to build schooling around the student. Armed with this information, educators can use their expertise to support the learning process, build relationships, and drive students toward lasting outcomes. Then, students gain the benefits of competency-based instruction.

All of this sounds great, but it still begs questions. If educators were to solely focus on growth, would all students achieve proficiency in the necessary areas by the time they reach graduation? Will they be prepared to enter college or have the skills necessary to be successful in the workforce? These reasons are why growth alone isn’t the answer either.

Together, proficiency + growth = student success

Striking a balance between understanding and meeting students’ individual growth goals, while also ensuring that all students are proficient in the necessary areas to be successful in society, is ultimately essential. This combined approach to student success celebrates the impact an effective educator can  have on students’ academic trajectories and also confirms that all students deserve to be understood, met at their level, and given the required support needed to help them excel.

Interested in learning more about how Edmentum can help you meet proficiency and growth targets? Check out our recorded webinar presentation on boosting growth and proficiency with Exact Path and Study Island.

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Madison Michell

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.