Report: Every State Now Measures Student Progress in Its Own Fashion

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, 48 states have signed on to measure student academic progress. What's good about this approach is that it goes beyond the previously used one-time test score comparison. What's not so good is that every single participating state does it in its own way. As a result, according to a new report from the Data Quality Campaign, these student growth measures "are not created equal." While the states may use the same term — "growth" — to describe what they're doing, they're using different methods to calculate it.

As the report explained, state leaders select indicators based on the questions they want to answer, what their state goals are, their capacity, the cost, the ease of implementation and the feedback they receive from stakeholders. They also decide how to calculate growth, summarize and interpret it. As a result of these many differences, growth data can't be used to make comparisons across states, and people who want to consume that data need to be able to understand just what's being communicated.

According to the DQC, most states are working with one or more of five different kinds of measures:

  • Student growth percentile, which uses individual student performance data to show how schools have served students with the same academic starting point (in use by 23 states);
  • Value table, which use individual student performance data to demonstrate what impact adults in the school have on student achievement, to show how the student's school has helped him or her learn compared to other schools working with similar students (in use by 12 states);
  • Growth-to-standard, which uses individual student performance data to show his or her "distance from grade-level learning goals" (in use by 10 states);
  • Value-added, which uses individual student performance data to show student progress, based on the state's cut scores (in use by nine states); or
  • Gain-score, which uses individual student performance data to show progress from one year to the next (in use by three states).

Three other states are using a "less common growth measure" that are unique from these five; and 10 states are using multiple measures, each combining the measures in different ways. Two states — California and Kansas — aren't measuring individual student progress at all, the DQC stated; California measures school-level change in performance over time by grouping (such as by grade levels) and Kansas measures achievement gaps.

While the use of data "has the potential to shift thinking about school quality and student progress," among decisionmakers, the "landscape of student growth measures in accountability systems is complicated," the report noted. The only way the data work can deliver "on the promise" is to make sure it's "transparent, well communicated and readily available to those closest to students so that they can use it to take action."

Therefore, DQC recommended, states leaders and education advocates need to focus on:

  • Being transparent about the growth measures they're using and why they've chosen those;
  • Making sure people "closest to the students" get secure access to the data about students so they can improve their instructional practices and support their students;
  • Communicating the state's growth data in ways that others can understand what decisions were made;
  • Understanding how the growth data "fits within the context of other accountability measures" to furnish a "complete picture of student success and school quality"; and
  • Monitoring how these measures are affecting decision-making and being adjusted through the course of implementation

This is just the beginning of the work, the report added. "Everyone using student growth data must understand the value and limitations of the information and, like with all data, consider it within the context of other available information."

The 10-page report is openly available through the DQC website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.