Over the past few months, many US states and districts have received data about student growth and teacher effectiveness. Some educators experience the excitement of outstanding scores and, most importantly, the success of their students’ growth. Some quietly plug along, satisfied to be meeting growth targets and deciding if it isn’t broken, there is no need to fix it. Still others are frustrated, left with unexpected and disappointing results. Regardless of results, everyone should take a long, hard look at the data and together ask the same question: Where do we grow from here?
First, it’s critical to understand the difference in growth and achievement. Achievement is what is measured by a test score. Growth is determined by comparing students against themselves and the amount of progress they have previously made across all tested grades and subjects. Knowing and understanding what best defines expected growth, however, is just the beginning. Leaders must be more reflective and proactive as they evaluate data to make decisions about how to grow from here.
Start with a high-level view of school data
As part of that reflection, SAS® Education Value-Added Assessment (EVAAS®) for K-12 reports provide teachers with an excellent starting point for contemplating the improvement process. Using EVAAS information, teachers should begin with a high-level view, where they can use broad scatterplots to examine multiple variables. At this level, teachers can easily see growth as compared to overall proficiency, as well as see growth and proficiency as compared to an entire state. Educators can see the growth of various groupings within a school, such as students with special needs or different socioeconomic status.
This high-level view yields certain insights. At a school-wide level, are students growing? Are various subgroups of the school growing and/or changing? The answers may at first seem to be a simple “yes” or “no”; however, the leader in all of us demands that we then ask, “Why is this happening?” and “What does it mean?” More specifically, we can ask, “How can I use this data to guide school-wide professional development goals?”
For example, if I am leading a middle school and I look at the Math value-add data for grades 6, 7, and 8, what do I see at first glance? I may see that my 6th grade math is not meeting expected growth, while my 7th grade is exceeding growth and 8th grade is meeting growth.
The differing outcomes provoke new questions. Were there curriculum changes in 6th grade that necessitate more teacher support for implementation? What is 7th grade doing well to grow students more than was anticipated? Can we/should we perform instructional rounds to observe this grade level? How can 8th grade continue to grow and improve? With a quick glance at each grade level and subject, we can begin to hone in on where we are and how we grow from here.
Descend to a teacher-level view
Diagnostic reports for individual teachers reveal how each teacher is growing the lowest-, the middle- and the highest-achieving students. From here, education leaders can evaluate each teacher’s unique needs and customize his/her professional development, with a goal of continuing improvement. In so doing, we promote and foster professional growth and improve the likelihood of increased student growth. Why send teachers to professional development that is not specific to their needs? If we target specific areas for improvement based on the diagnostic data, we better support our teachers and ultimately our students. Furthermore, using teacher diagnostic data can help us build a better master schedule. With the right students in the right seats in the right classroom, we can see even more effective teaching and improved student growth.
Finish with student-level information
The final piece is student information. What can we learn about our students? Predictive analytics helps put the right students in the best courses for their future success. For example, EVAAS data can help determine if the appropriate students are enrolled in advanced math courses that are gateways to their college readiness. By looking at student diagnostic data, paired with teacher diagnostic data, we can determine the best fits to promote student growth.
More than a number
We have often heard teachers remark, “I am more than a number.” Surely, that is something with which we can all agree, and now we have the tools to make it so. As we continue to consider teacher effectiveness, student growth and EVAAS, let us use the newly released data in a positive way. Fortunately, EVAAS provides us with more than a single measure of a single test to help us bring growth over time -- growth of school districts, individual schools, each teacher, and each student -- into its sharpest focus yet. With the tension and the excitement of the data release (and news media focus) now largely behind us, we must seize the moment and turn this challenge into a rare, limitless opportunity.
Where will we grow from here?