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State's students growth model helpful, to a point

POSTED: July 27, 2014 12:00 p.m.

The State Department of Education on Thursday unveiled a growth model that measures the progress of students on standardized tests from year-to-year to shine more light on progress instead of simply scores.

A local school director sees plusses and minuses regarding how useful the data can be.

Barrow County Schools Director of Student Services Matt Thompson, who has experience with these types of models, said the growth model the state unveiled is one of the better ones he’s seen in terms of measuring growth in students.

"The state of Georgia’s model is one of the better ones I’ve seen and I’ll absolutely stand by it as a sound psychometric measure of student growth," he said. "I think it is well designed and absolutely tells you a lot about how students are growing relative to learners like themselves."

Looking at the growth is one of new Superintendent Chris McMichael’s main philosophies, as opposed to simply looking at what percentage of students score above a certain level, and the new tool, available on the state department website, allows anyone to see that progression (or regression).

State Superintendent John Barge also likes the model’s focus.

"Academic achievement only tells part of the story," he said in a news release. "The addition of student growth tells a more complete story about the academic performance of students. Now we not only know where students ended up, but we also know how much progress they made to get there."

Thompson, however, said a couple of issues related to the model somewhat blunt its effectiveness.

The first is how dated the info actually is.

"What was released to the public today was two years old (2013 school year) and we don’t expect to have our 2014 results until later this fall," he said. "Any type of score loses its utility when it is delayed that much."

He added that the state is working to correct that issue but that until that time, data from April 2013 can only have minimal value for teachers who may very likely never have a chance to teach those students anymore.

"A lot of learning has happened since then so the scores lose a lot of their power in the meantime," he noted.

Of course, even timely reports don’t give teachers all they need to be able to know exactly how to help a struggling students or amplify previous growth. What the growth models can’t tell is why a students progressed or regressed.

"Was it the student? The parent? The Teacher? All of the above in some combination? Teasing out why a student grew or regressed is a much more complicated than just establishing that they did," he said. "I worry that the simplistic usage of the growth model in teacher evaluation is more problematic than the state lets on."

Under the new teacher evaluation system the growth model accounts for half of a teacher’s evaluation, meaning whether or not a student is growing or regressing has a huge impact on how the teacher is regarded, whether or not the change had a lot or a little to do with the teacher.

"The teacher has a huge impact on their student’s performance and I certainly think looking at growth rates by teacher is an important thing for systems to do. I also think student growth, measured properly, should be a part of teacher evaluation," he said, noting that his is just one of many differing opinion. "But I’m not quite as sold that we can easily attribute all the growth or lack of it in a truly systematic way to the teacher; so 50 percent of an evaluation seems a bit high to me."

According to the state department release, the core purpose of the model is to provide students, parents, educators, and the public with valuable, actionable information on students’ academic progress. The addition of student growth data to existing student achievement data paints a more complete picture of the achievement and progress being made by Georgia’s students.



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