Recently Senator Al Franken posed a question to potential Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, on growth vs proficiency in education, as it relates to student achievement. Her answer, or lack thereof, became cause for concern for the Senator and many others in the educational community.
Our purpose on the blog is not to discuss Devos’ response one way or another, but instead to discuss the idea of Growth and Proficiency.
Growth, as it was used in this instance, refers to a student’s understanding of a topic over time. Has the student “grown” or “progressed” in his or her understanding of a particular subject matter over time? I’ve experienced growth if upon starting my government class I know nothing about the branches of government, but by the end I can express to you information about each branch and what they do.
Growth is different for every child. If I already knew about the branches of government when I started that class, how did I grow? Was there enough new information, discussion, or debate for me to surpass what I already knew?
Proficiency, on the other hand, sets a hard and fast rule about student progress. It doesn’t matter that before I couldn’t have a discussion with you about the branches of government and now I can. What matters is that I can exactly name the 3 branches and list 5 things each branch is responsible for. If I can do that, that’s proficiency. I may not know anything else about them, and I may have already known this information before I started class, but with proficiency, being able to answer that exact question is what counts.
So which way is best? It’s certainly easier to focus on proficiency. You have one set of guidelines to use and an easy way of knowing who has reached proficiency and who hasn’t. We focus on proficiency in our practice, benchmark and final tests in our Reading lesson plans and math lesson plans. But is there room for both?
Is it ok to use tests to measure proficiency, but at the same time require an oral presentation or some other performance assessment that shows growth? Is it fair then too to have the test be PART of a final grade while the performance assessment makes up a portion as well? Can we use both proficiency and growth to measure our students’ progress in schools?
I certainly don’t know the answer, but I think perhaps somewhere in the debate there might be room for compromise.