Making Growth Understandable
School test scores are a snapshot. If the test is a good one, it tells us how much a student knows at any given time, but it doesn’t tell us how much he’s learned over the course of a school year. For that you need to know how well the student scored in the past and measure that against the present. That’s called “growth data.” A recent Data Quality Campaign (DQC) publication highlights how important growth data is for parents, and suggests ways to help parents find and interpret growth information.
The DQC publication is a resource for parents, explaining why growth data is important for understanding student progress and how it can provide insight into their child’s school. It even explains different types of growth measurements in non-academic terms and could help parents work through jargon that may be on a school report card.
Unfortunately, the Missouri school report cards produced by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) don’t clearly explain growth data like the DQC does. In fact, the report cards don’t effectively inform parents about student growth at all, let alone explain what growth means.
To be sure, Missouri school report cards currently have a “growth” column in a section labeled “Federal (ESSA) Data”. The screenshots below are from three different district report cards. The growth numbers are all indecipherable.
The explanation on the report card doesn’t help much either. The report card states that numbers above 50% represent positive growth. ‘S’ and ‘N’ indicate whether the data was statistically significant or not. However, DESE doesn’t indicate how much growth the 50 percent benchmark represents, or even what defines growth. This “information” is not useful for parents who want to gauge how their child’s school is performing.
DQC’s approach actually informs parents. To explain how growth is calculated, DQC asks, “Did teachers help students in this school do better than we expected them to perform, even if they didn’t get to a grade-level target?” Framed in this way, there is context to the meaning of growth data and what it tells us about a school. DESE and the DQC are both talking about growth, but the different ways they present and communicate the information can make a major difference.
Parents should be able to easily find how much a school teaches students each year. But as long as student growth information is hidden behind statistical jargon and vague definitions, parents may never know how much students are learning at their child’s school.