Yesterday, we did a thread to explain school grades. Here’s some additional information about growth because it is the hardest part to understand.

Usually, when schoolwide proficiency goes up, growth will go up as well, BUT it is possible to have higher proficiency scores schoolwide from one year to the next and still have a lower school growth score over that same period. Here’s why: schools get points for their schoolwide average proficiency, but points for individual students’ growth. Those two things can be moving in the opposite directions, on average, because…math.

Let’s say, for example, that your school is an elementary school serving kids K-6. In your school, only your 3-6 graders would take state tests in English and math. Your 5th graders would also take a science test. Your whole grade is based on these tests. Because 3rd graders are first-time state-test takers, they will not get “growth” scores, only proficiency scores. You need two years of state tests to calculate a growth score.

That means that your 3rd grade team can be complete rock stars and your kids can score REALLY WELL. You will get credit for their proficiency, but they won’t appear at all in your growth calculation. Imagine then that your teacher teams in grades 4-6 are not as stellar, and so proficiency declines for students in the upper grades. These lower scores will be averaged with the amazing 3rd grade scores, so your schoolwide proficiency average may look pretty good. If this year’s third graders do even better than last year’s third graders, proficiency may even GO UP schoolwide, despite the fact that kids do worse the longer they are in the school, ESPECIALLY IF you have declining enrollment. Why? Because the larger grade with higher scores is pulling up the average for the other grades.

Growth is a completely different beast. It’s based on individual kids’ trajectories, year to year. If last year’s third graders in our scenario do worse in fourth grade, then worse still in fifth grade, growth only looks at the change.

If a school has higher proficiency than growth, even if proficiency went up from the previous year, the difference shows a portion of students are moving backwards (or staying in the same below-proficiency place) year-to-year. Parents should look to see whether a school’s growth is 1) lower, 2) higher, or 3) about the same as proficiency year after year.

If it is #1 year after year, the school is in trouble. If it is #2, then the school is actively moving kids. However, make sure that pattern this is sustained for more than one year. Large increases in growth in a single year (that drop the next) may indicate the fundamentals are not right at the school.

If your school is a #3 and proficiency is high already, your school is maintaining kids’ advantages but maybe not increasing them, and kids who are not proficient might not ever get there. If your school is #3 and proficiency is low, this is a red flag. Kids who are not already proficient are never going to get there, and that’s most of the kids.

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