Mark, one of my former students, was rocking algebra 1.  He had the highest grade in his class and regularly scored 80 percent or higher on his practice End of Course practice tests.  He was on pace to score advanced (the highest score he could make) and in the end, he did!

The only thing was that Mark (not his real name) was never supposed to achieve this. At the beginning of the year when I looked at the projected growth data for all my kids, Mark’s chances of achieving advanced were in the single digits  and nothing suggested he would do anything different that year. But we were able to forge a strong connection that allowed me to help him to the dramatic growth he was able to make by years end. And we were able to celebrate Mark’s growth for what it was; exemplary. I would have never known the extent of this growth without the the availability of growth data from the Tennessee TVAAS system.

Fundamentally I believe we need to have effective measures to quantify student growth because it allows us to recognize amazing stories and points of improvement like Mark’s.  Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, this is the kind of story we all want for our children – the story of dramatic growth in knowledge and maturity under the tutelage of the classroom teacher. I’ll never forget the smile on Mark’s face when I got to tell him he made advanced.  Every student, parent and teacher deserves to be able to see this kind of inspirational growth.

I also believe that we need a strong growth measure so that we can continue to increase the professionalism of our teaching staff.  Effective growth measures allow us to identify exemplary teachers and find the things in common that make them great.  Every teacher has their own individual methods and some are more appropriate than others in different situations.  But unless we have a measure to identify those teachers their quality and techniques will continue to go unrecognized and we will lose a vital opportunity to share their experience and insights to improve the overall quality of our profession.

Without a growth measure we also lose the ability to target policies to keep these high performing educators in the teaching profession.  Teachers continue to leave at such high of a rate that almost fifty percent of American teachers have under ten years of experience and over half leave the profession in the first five years, regardless of certification program.  Many of these are our best and brightest educators.  If we can’t identify them, we can’t keep them.

Likewise, with an effective growth measure we can identify the small handful of teachers that fail to add value to their students (and yes, I do believe its a small handful).  Once identified we can support these teachers, help them improve, and if all else fails, communicate that perhaps teaching is not the best profession for them.

The problem is that growth is messy.  It’s difficult to quantify and it’s not always uniform from student to student, year to year and teacher to teacher.  It can change depending on the school or the group of students being taught and it doesn’t always correlate to a test score.  Mark grew in so many other ways than his test scores indicate, in his maturity and perseverance.  While some of this can be captured by test score, we can never capture everything that a teacher adds to a student in one years time.

That said, teaching doesn’t have to be a mysterious black box.  The best teachers consistently add academic value to their student’s year in and year out.  This suggests there must be some rhyme and reason to growth and by extension an effective way to measure it. It gives me hope that we can find a measure that effectively quantifies student growth and use it in the ways I’ve described.


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