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#AskExcelinEd: How are states incorporating student growth into their accountability systems?

• Jim Hull

This #AskExcelinEd series features our analysis of the nuts and bolts of the first 17 ESSA plans (16 states, plus Washington, D.C.) submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. Each week we will answer a different question about these plans to help the next 34 states learn from the strengths and weaknesses of the first round of plans.

Stay tuned for the next #AskExcelinEd series featuring innovation and next generation student learning.

Note: To date, 6 of the 17 plans have been approved by USED; the remaining 11 plans continue to evolve as those states incorporate feedback from the Department. This entry is accurate as of September 5.


ESSA State Plans


How are states incorporating student growth into their accountability systems?

One of ESSA’s strengths is that it encourages states to include measures of student growth in their accountability systems.

When states hold schools accountable for the academic improvement of each student, it creates a more balanced accountability system because it gives schools credit for improving student achievement, not just for advancing students to the “proficient” level. Recognizing growth provides schools incentive to improve the performance of all students—from those who start school the furthest behind and may not reach proficiency in the first few years to the higher performers who are already proficient and ready to move to advanced achievement.

ExcelinEd’s review of the first round of 17 state ESSA plans (as of September 5, 2017) led to two major takeaways related to student growth.

First, the good news: All 17 first-round states include a growth measure to identify K-8 schools for support and intervention.

All 17 states plan to include a measure of individual student achievement growth in their accountability system, at least for K-8 schools. The story is much different when it comes to high school where just five of the 17 states included a measure of student achievement growth, with less emphasis than in K-8. This was not a surprise because most states only assess students once in high school and are focused more on outcomes that will lead to college and career readiness.

As we applauded last week, most states are balancing these measures of growth with measures of proficiency. We found states placed between 25 percent (in Louisiana) to 60 percent (in Colorado) weight on growth in their state plans for accountability systems. Balancing these measures is imperative because the goal remains for students to meet grade-level expectations.

Now, the not-so-good news: Most states are not measuring growth to a goal.

Unfortunately, most states are exclusively using a norm-referenced growth model to measure student growth. (Eleven of 16 state plans use norm-referenced models; North Dakota’s state plan does not explain how growth is computed.)

Click to enlarge the chart.

Why our apprehension about norm-referenced growth models? As ExcelinEd’s CEO argued earlier this year, “The norm-referenced approach measures students on a fluctuating scale that obscures their real progress.” On the other hand, criterion-based models measure a student’s progress toward the goal of proficiency and, ultimately, college and career readiness. Measuring student progress toward proficiency provides a more accurate assessment as to whether students are on track to meeting these all-important objectives. Yet, just three states measure student growth utilizing a criterion-based model alone while another two states measure student growth utilizing both norm- and criterion-referenced models.

ESSA provides an important opportunity for state policymakers to balance proficiency and growth in holding schools accountable. Unfortunately, most states have used this opportunity to use norm-referenced models to measure student achievement growth. As policymakers in the remaining states finalize their ESSA plans, they should consider the example of those states that measure growth using a criterion-referenced model. In doing so, they would set the stage to properly identify which schools are indeed preparing their students to leave high school ready for the challenges and opportunities of college and careers.

Have another question or need ESSA-related resources? Let us know!

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