CREDIT: Alison Yin / EdSource
Rulers at Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland, Calif.

With the campaign behind him, incoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has a tremendous opportunity to champion systems and policies put in place to benefit students. One way we can do that is to change the way the state measures progress on its standardized tests in math and English.

Steve Martinez

Steve Martinez, superintendent, Twin Rivers Unified

The release last month of the state’s standardized test results, which showed only a slightly more than 1 percentage point increase in students who “met” or “exceeded” English and math standards from last year, while discouraging, does not tell the whole story.

It does not help districts figure out which schools are accelerating academic progress and whether strategies that were implemented the year before have translated into improvements. Instead, the state currently reports yearly change, by comparing the scores of this year’s students against the scores of last year’s students who were in the same grade.

Even though educators, parents and policymakers might think change signals impact, it says much more about the change in who the students are because it is not measuring the growth of the same student from one year to the next.

Rick Miller, CORE Districts

Also, the state reports the percentage of students whose scores were at or above “level three” — the third highest of four achievement levels — another way of saying how many students were proficient, but which tends to obscure the progress made by students who are still getting to proficient.

There is a better way to measure how much each student improves from one year to a next — this measure is called Academic Growth. It measures the acceleration of achievement at a school by accounting for how much each individual student is learning over time. It considers improvement in scores even though a student hasn’t reached the goal of Level 3.

However, growth data are not collected or available on the California School Dashboard, much to the dismay of stakeholders, although it has been a topic of year-long debate at the State Board of Education.

To know what is really happening in Twin Rivers Unified and other districts that serve highly diverse student populations, we must dive more deeply into the data to consider academic growth to know whether or not schools are accelerating achievement.

Twin Rivers Unified, a district with 27,000 students near Sacramento, is part of the CORE Data Collaborative, a partnership among several county offices of education and all their districts with the CORE Districts, providing growth and other data for educators along with an infrastructure for building capacity to use data for improvement. The partnership is voluntary for local educational agencies and it now serves one-third of the schools in the state.

States across the nation report growth in various ways. The CORE Districts adopted a method that adds in student demographic factors to give a more accurate reading of a school’s impact on student growth. It compares schools by considering whether each student’s progress is less or greater than could be expected for other students who are similar and who started off at the same score the previous year.

One story, in particular, helps illustrate the importance of growth data in helping the district make decisions. The Twin Rivers school board took bold action last year to adopt a new supplemental curriculum to address concerns that elementary school math scores were not improving. The program responded to teachers’ requests for more math support to help students struggling to grasp the Common Core curriculum. It was developed by a teacher in Long Beach Unified, scaled across their district and then brought to Garden Grove Unified where it continued to show significant results for students. Because of Twin Rivers’ partnership with these districts, the program was brought here.

Supporting teachers and ensuring that they have the tools to effectively teach math is only part of the program. Parents also receive training through a lesson newsletter sent out to families prior to a new unit.

The academic growth over the past year suggests this program helped students improve:

  • A third of our schools overall had above-average academic growth compared to schools with similar demographics across the state.
  • Forty-one percent of our elementary schools and 33 percent of our middle schools had above-average growth in math last year.
  • At our middle schools, we saw a particularly remarkable improvement from 13 percent of schools showing strong growth in 2017 to 33 percent of schools in 2018.

While math scores in some of our schools continue to lag behind schools in different communities, there is evidence we are on the right track when we consider growth and compare our students and schools to similar students and schools through this data partnership.

Digging deeper into data enabled us to validate the hard work of teachers, students and families and allow our board to make informed decisions. School communities need actionable data and a complete picture of progress in order to support meaningful changes for students. This is the essence of local control.

Moving forward we will continue evaluating our growth data; listening to teachers, students and families and remaining hopeful that the state board of education will move forward on a growth model. We have a tremendous amount of work ahead, but by effectively working together, we will get to where we need to be for all of our students.

•••

Steve Martinez is superintendent of Twin Rivers Unified School District. Rick Miller is Executive Director of the CORE Districts.

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  1. SD Parent 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    All parents support a growth model – even those whose kids are already proficient or advanced. ("A years worth of growth" is the mantra of parents of GATE students as well.) The CDE does offer longitudinal CAASPP data of student cohorts using the "Change Over Time" tab, which can drill down to the school level. What is really necessary is serious thought and innovation followed by analysis of best practices – at … Read More

    All parents support a growth model – even those whose kids are already proficient or advanced. (“A years worth of growth” is the mantra of parents of GATE students as well.) The CDE does offer longitudinal CAASPP data of student cohorts using the “Change Over Time” tab, which can drill down to the school level.

    What is really necessary is serious thought and innovation followed by analysis of best practices – at the district, school, and even teacher level – and building on those best practices to make significant strides rapidly. Using practices that made a difference in Long Beach Unified was a nice first step for Twin Rivers Unified. However, making one change that results in a more positive outcome doesn’t mean there aren’t 10 other concepts that might have been additive and/or might have worked better. I would urge all school districts to work with the state to compile a registry of innovative best practices (including the results) so that all schools in all districts can move as rapidly as possible in a positive direction.
    Remember, students have only one opportunity in TK-12, and millions of children lose opportunities every year while the adults try to “figure it out.”

  2. Morgan Polikoff 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Certainly Dr. Kirst is correct that we should be thoughtful as we're choosing a growth model, and perhaps it might take some continued study. But dozens of states have seen the same evidence as was presented to the State Board and made a different (and what I and virtually every other educational measurement researcher believes is very clearly correct) decision to use an actual student growth model. More deliberation is fine, but this particular decision … Read More

    Certainly Dr. Kirst is correct that we should be thoughtful as we’re choosing a growth model, and perhaps it might take some continued study. But dozens of states have seen the same evidence as was presented to the State Board and made a different (and what I and virtually every other educational measurement researcher believes is very clearly correct) decision to use an actual student growth model. More deliberation is fine, but this particular decision should not take very long, and the result should be a model that actually tracks the achievement growth of individual students. There really is no good argument for the current choice.

  3. Richard Jung 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Let’s hope whomever becomes the next SBE President has the measured, seasoned, and resaoned approach of Dr. Kirst.

  4. Ernie Silva 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    CORE has it right! Individual pupil growth is an important metric for students below grade level. SIATech's mission is to reengage out of school youth and to support their growth towards fully accredited public high school diploma. We use an individual pupil growth model internally to encourage students, support our learning community and hold ourselves accountable for student growth. This past year the Governor and the legislature authorized the State Board … Read More

    CORE has it right! Individual pupil growth is an important metric for students below grade level. SIATech’s mission is to reengage out of school youth and to support their growth towards fully accredited public high school diploma. We use an individual pupil growth model internally to encourage students, support our learning community and hold ourselves accountable for student growth. This past year the Governor and the legislature authorized the State Board of Education to adopt an individual pupil growth model to more fairly evaluate the performance of alternative schools or a specific category of alternative schools. We look forward to working with the State Board, CDE and the alternative education community to accomplish this important goal.

  5. Michael Kirst 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    The article does not cover the many complex issues concerning which alternative growth model measure is best for California. No alternative presented to the State Board of Education convinced the Board that it was appropriate, so we asked for more analysis from CDE. I have learned over many years that rushing to implement
    new policy may please interest groups, but it is not the best way to make good state policy.

    Replies

    • Doug McRae 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      I agree with Michael Kirst on this topic. Growth models have a lot of promise, but the model recommended by CDE/ETS last summer showed a lack of stability over time and the State Board of Education rightfully asked for at least one more year's data before adopting it for statewide use. In general, growth models are problematic for schools/districts with high student mobility, compared to the less sexy change model that California has used for … Read More

      I agree with Michael Kirst on this topic. Growth models have a lot of promise, but the model recommended by CDE/ETS last summer showed a lack of stability over time and the State Board of Education rightfully asked for at least one more year’s data before adopting it for statewide use. In general, growth models are problematic for schools/districts with high student mobility, compared to the less sexy change model that California has used for the last 20 years.

      Also, for the current adaptive Smarter Balanced tests, an additional factor of lack of year-to-year comparability of change results throws another monkey wrench into the advocacy for growth models for California. Growth models may provide preferred analyses for some schools/districts in California right now, but extension to use for all schools/districts is not yet justified due to the current instability of the underlying assessment data over time.