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Student Growth Measures


Today, more than ever before, educators are being told that they must use data to inform their instruction and are subsequently bombarded by an array of student assessment terms and data sources. Consider the frequent use of the following terms: “formative,” “summative,” “curriculum-based,” “evaluative,” “value-added,” “high-stakes,” “achievement,” “rubric,” “universal screen,” “outcome,” “benchmark,” “diagnostic,” and “progress monitor”, These assessment types are among the items that educators must understand before they can begin to use the data that these measures produce. Fortunately, this confusing tangle can be simplified. For the purposes of this ReadTennessee.org, any assessment types that are available to educators will be considered “student growth measures” when used to evaluate progress or growth.

When thinking about using student growth measures, it is helpful to consider four characteristics: purpose, use, appropriateness, and action. Each assessment type was developed for a specific purpose. Summative assessments are developed to measure students’ achievement at certain grade levels. Formative assessments are developed to inform teachers and students about students’ learning. Universal screens are developed to quickly screen students who may be at-risk and to identify them for deeper diagnostic follow-up assessment. Diagnostic assessments are designed to provide rich and highly detailed information regarding students’ strengths and weaknesses. Benchmark tests are developed to assess students’ progress during the course of a year against broad year-end standards and goals. Curriculum-based assessments are developed to be very closely tied to the learning objectives of a specific curriculum in small units. To summarize, educators have a wide variety of assessment tools available to them, each with a specifically designed purpose.

Similarly, data generated by student growth measures can be used in different ways. One traditional use for an assessment is to provide a snapshot of students’ achievement at one moment in time. The results from the assessment can be used to inform educators about students’ ability in the classroom. For example, a summative assessment, such as the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), is often used to measure students’ achievement for that year. However, TCAP scores can also be used to evaluate students’ growth across time. By examining TCAP scores across two consecutive years, the results can be used to inform educators about the progress of their students. This example shows how by linking results across two or more time points, educators can evaluate the progress students made. Examining scores at one particular moment is an indicator of achievement; Comparing achievement at one time against achievement on subsequent assessments is also an indicator of progress.

The only way educators can discern whether students’ are on an appropriate pace to meet their long term goals is to draw appropriate conclusions about both achievement at specific points in time and also their progress along the way towards achieving those goals. Both achievement and progress are important and necessary indicators for student growth. 

Student growth measures have different purposes and can be used in different ways to evaluate achievement and progress. In doing so, educators must give some consideration to the appropriateness of the assessment in order to draw conclusions about achievement and progress. Such conclusions need to be tempered by the appropriateness of the assessment data. For example, it would be inappropriate to use the results from two end-of-week spelling tests—each designed for the purpose of assessing mastery of a week’s worth of spelling instruction, one from September and one from May—to draw conclusions about students’ achievement and progress in Spelling across the year. However, it would be appropriate to compare beginning- and end-of-year results from a benchmark type of assessment—designed for the purpose of demonstrating students’ progress towards end of year standards—to draw conclusions about students’ achievement and progress in Spelling across the year.

Finally, the true utility of student growth measures appears when educators take action with the results. Purpose, use, and appropriateness are necessary for thoughtful consideration of student achievement and progress, but it would all go for naught if educators did not take action. Action can come in the form of using information to place students into small groups; Action can come in the form of identifying students’ for special programs. Action can also come in the form of identifying professional development needs and action can come in the form of making curriculum decisions, as well as action can come in the form of evaluating specific instructional practices. Taking action is the most essential and culminating step of using assessment information.