Reshuffling the Deck: Why Growth-Based Accountability School Metrics Are Fair to Schools, Teachers and the Public

If you overlaid poverty by zip code with school accountability metrics, no surprise, high poverty geographic areas closely match low performance on standardized tests, as well as rates of chronic absenteeism, numbers of suspensions, number of students in foster care or living in shelters, etc.,

If you overlaid education levels of parents with school accountability metrics, no surprise, levels of parent education closely align with student achievement.

Schools Watch, part of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School published an enlightening study, A Better Picture of Poverty.

‘New York City’s ‘truly disadvantaged’ public schools. urban schools serve students and their families who face the heaviest misery and hardship imposed by poverty and family dysfunction, and these are typically in neighborhoods most bereft of the reserves of community “social capital” that can offset poverty’s worst effects.

The study  devised a new metric that the Center called “risk load factors.”

“…18 school and community “risk load factors” that closely align with scores on Common Core tests … From teacher turnover to the number of students who are homeless, our analysis shows that the connection between chronic absenteeism and the characteristics of deep poverty are clear.”

“A 2013 study in Philadelphia concluded that homelessness, child maltreatment and a mother’s level of education were the strongest predictors of a child’s school achievement.”

In spite of the undisputed links of poverty to test results New York State uses a proficiency metric – a cut score, a proficiency grade, set by the state psychometrician, solely based on test scores.

High income, high tax, high parent education districts are overwhelmingly proficient while low income, low tax, low parent education level districts are overwhelmingly below proficient, or, to use the state term, are “approaching proficiency.”

As I described on a recent blog New York State, as part of the new ESSA law is crafting a new accountability metric, with wide discretion.

A core question emerged: should the state continue utilizing proficiency metrics or move to a growth metric. A growth metric utilizes growth regardless of proficiency.

Mike Petrilli is the President of the Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education think tank; however, you can’t place Petrilli in the “(de)reformer” camp; he is an independent thinker.

In his Flypaper blog  “Why states should use student growth, and not proficiency rates, when gauging school effectiveness,” Petrilli and his co-author, Aaron Churchill write,

Our goal with this post is to convince you that continuing to use status measures like proficiency rates to grade schools is misleading and irresponsible—so much so that the results from growth measures ought to count much more—three, five, maybe even nine times more—than proficiency when determining school performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Status measures are the metrics I refer to: geography, parent income and education, etc.

The authors make a cogent argument

The blog argues:

  1. In an era of high standards and tough tests, proficiency rates are correlated with student demographics and prior achievement. If schools are judged predominantly on these rates, almost every high-poverty school will be labeled a failure. That is not only inaccurate and unfair, but it will also demoralize educators and/or hurt the credibility of school accountability systems. In turn, states will be pressured to lower their proficiency standards.
  2. Growth measures—like “value added” or “student growth percentiles”—are a much fairer way to evaluate schools, since they can control for prior achievement and can ascertain progress over the course of the school year. They can also differentiate between high-poverty schools where kids are making steady progress and those where they are not.
  3. In contrast with conventional wisdom, growth models don’t let too many poor-performing schools “off the hook.” Failure rates for high-poverty schools are still high when judged by “value added” or “student growth percentiles”—they just aren’t as ridiculously high as with proficiency rates.

:Petrilli and Churchill don’t shy away from their critics,

Probably the strongest argument against using growth models as the centerpiece of accountability systems is that they don’t expect “enough” growth, especially for poor kids and kids of color. The Education Trust, for example, is urging states to use caution in choosing “comparative” growth models, including growth percentiles and value-added measures, because whether students are making enough progress to hit the college-ready target by the end of high school, or whether low-performing subgroups are making fast enough gains to close achievement gaps. And that much is true. But let’s keep this in mind: Closing the achievement gap, or readying disadvantaged students for college, is not a one-year “fix.” It takes steady progress—and gains accumulated over time—for lower-achieving students to draw even with their peers….. An article by Harvard’s Tom Kane reports that the wildly successful Boston charter schools cut the black-white achievement gap by roughly one-fifth each year in reading and one-third in math. So even in the most extraordinary academic environments, disadvantaged students may need many years to draw even with their peers (and perhaps longer to meet a high college-ready bar). That is sobering indeed.

The article should be required reading for every policy-maker and the conclusion is dramatic:

Using proficiency rates to rate high-poverty schools is an unfair practice to schools that has real-world consequences. Not only does this policy give the false impression that practically all high-poverty schools are ineffective, but it also demeans educators in high-needs schools who are working hard to advance student learning. Plus, it actually weakens the accountability spotlight on the truly bad high-poverty schools, since they cannot be distinguished from the strong ones

Read the entire blog:

The failure to acknowledge and learn from high growth schools is disturbing:  the Department assigned a principal to phase out a low performing school that shared most of the poverty “risk load factors.”  In the last two years the school growth scores were impressive, although far, far below proficient.  The school closed and the teachers scrambled to find jobs or end up in the ATR pool. No one seemed interested in what the school did in the last two years – why was the school making progress?  Among low proficiency schools there is a considerable difference in growth. Did the positive growth schools alter their structure; use Title 1 dollars differently, collaborate effectively,? what was the role of the school leader?:  bottom line – why didn’t the Department take a deep dive into the leadership and instructional practices in higher growth school regardless of overall proficiency rates?

There are also high proficiency, low growth schools; should we give them a pass? A friend toured a high proficiency high school and viewed mediocre instruction; He asked the principal why he wasn’t working to improve the instruction. The principal replied, “Why mess with success?”

The move from proficiency to growth is reshuffling the deck and will be discomforting too some schools; however, it will be fair to schools, teachers and the public.

2 responses to “Reshuffling the Deck: Why Growth-Based Accountability School Metrics Are Fair to Schools, Teachers and the Public

  1. And yet the same students who continue to do poorly on standardized tests will still be subjected to these tests. This doesn’t get away from the overuse of standardized tests at all. These tests that aren’t normed, validated, or appropriate for kids. Unless you are talking stealth tests embedded in a competency-based education/personalized learning environment. How is it fair to the public? Parents don’t care about growth on these tests. They care about their kids getting a good education. Will schools still teach the Common Core standards which are essentially teaching to the test? This is an ESSA requirement for state plans. It is more of the same prescriptive federal overreach into local decisions. I can’t believe you are advocating this…


  2. The law requires tests and gives states wide discretion; however, the accountability metric must be evidence-based and the evidence standard is high – use the Common Core or another set of standards, use PARCC or Smarter Balance or a test designed specifically for the state, or use performance tasks, don’t set a proficiency-based cut score. It is certainly fair to ask if kids are making progress. And whatever tool we use must pass standards of reliability and validity. Yes, parents want to know if kids are making progress and a growth model is fair to all kids and all parents – not just the higher wealth/education parents,


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