Student growth: Why does it matter?

By Sherrilynn Bair, Curriculum Director

The first year of school is an exciting time for students and their parents. Riding the bus, meeting new teachers, and making friends are important milestones at the beginning of each school year. Let’s talk about Max, a student eager for his first day of kindergarten.

It was hard to tell who was more excited about starting school, Max or his mom. Conversations about new clothes, backpacks, and riding the school bus became the norm as September crept closer and the leaves started to change. When the first day of school finally arrived, Max bounced into school to meet his teacher and start his year-long adventure.

Prior to this, preschool screenings had revealed that Max didn’t know his letters, letter sounds, or even how to write his name, but his new teacher assured his mom that he would be fine and would learn alongside his peers. Max joined his classmates and loved going to school each day. However, a couple red flags caused his mom and teacher to keep an eye on Max’s progress closely.

Because of this, it was not a big surprise when Max’s first benchmark assessment showed he was below proficient. Max often seemed distracted and didn’t seem to pay attention during class. However, he loved recess, snacks, and playing with friends, despite having a hard time sitting still.

A few months later, mid-year benchmarks showed that Max was still not proficient. Teacher-created assessments and observations showed similar results. Discussions during parent-teacher conferences focused on Max’s behavior and lack of proficiency. In response, his teacher recommended testing Max for special education. His mom was anxious and worried about her son’s ability to succeed, but agreed to the testing.

The special education testing results showed that Max had some areas of concern. His teacher, school psychologist, and principal recommend Max for special education and set up a meeting with his mom. Remember, this was only January of his kindergarten year. Mom was concerned, but agreed to qualifying him for special education.

Fast forward to May. End-of-the-year data meetings revealed more information about Max. Although Max was still not proficient, he showed the highest rate of student growth, not only in his class, but of the entire kindergarten class in Renaissance Star Early Literacy®. Max also had the highest rate of growth in an instructional literacy software program. The questions started swirling… What was happening? Was Max more comfortable with computers and tablets? Was he more familiar with electronic devices than pencil and paper? Has Max been exposed to literacy activities prior to entering school? Was Max on a path of growth to proficiency? Will he reach proficiency given a little more time? What questions might you ask about Max’s story?

Max's Proficiency

Max's Growth

Max's Scaled Score

Looking at student growth, in addition to proficiency, could have changed the conversations regarding Max’s qualifications for special education. Don’t we owe it, not only to Max, but all students to look at and consider growth before making decisions that might affect their learning opportunities? Max is just one example of why student growth matters. Looking at student growth, in addition to proficiency, is the right thing to do for students. Carol Dweck says it best, “Test scores and measures of achievement tell you were a student is, but they don’t tell you where a student could end up.”

How do you measure student growth? Have you had similar experiences in your career? Let us know in the comments below, post on our Facebook, or tweet us at @RenLearnUS!

To read Sherrilynn’s success story and learn how their Idaho school district uses data to measure student growth, click the button below!

Sherrilynn Bair, Curriculum Director
Sherrilynn Bair, Curriculum Director
Sherrilynn holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Phoenix. She was recently appointed to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission and is passionate about making sure all students have access to quality learning options.


  1. Andrea says:

    I like using the scaled score to see students’ growth over time.

  2. Jody Steinhaus says:

    All kids can learn. They just learn at different paces and in different ways. I try my best to meet their needs based on their learning styles and with the formative and summative data I have. Making informed decisions is essential to student growth.

    • Liana Ferrer says:

      I completely agree with you. All kids learn at different paces. I also take their learning styles and interests into consideration.

      • Sherrilynn says:

        Considering learning styles and interests are key pieces of the puzzle as well. Helping students love learning starts with knowing their interests!

    • Angela says:

      I think it is essential to have this understanding that not all students start in the same place, so we as educators have to help them to move forward where they start…Not always getting them to that exact grade level, but concentrate on the actual learning.

      • Sherrilynn says:

        Understanding the difference between growth and proficiency is critical for making decisions and setting goals. When we look at data, we naturally tend to focus on learning more than teaching. A subtle, yet powerful difference!

    • Sherrilynn says:

      Thanks for you comment Jodi. Sharing your learning with your colleagues helps build capacity for all.

  3. Laura says:

    This was a very interesting article.

  4. Brenda Curtis says:

    We love the growth reports in Renaissance! It is an excellent way to really track a student’s potential.

  5. Jason says:

    I always like looking at the data and seeing the upward growth on paper as the year develops. It can be a motivating factor as well.

  6. Nicole Erwin says:

    I need to check out this report, especially across years

  7. Heidi says:

    I monitor student growth every year. I feel it’s extremely important to track. If a student starts with me below grade level but improves by 1.5 or 2 years worth of growth in my class that’s a huge accomplishment. They may not have met end of year targets but that kind of growth is significant.

  8. Carly says:

    Progress monitoring provides essential data to show if interventions are working. Teachers can’t wait until mid-year benchmarks to know whether our students are growing. Star makes progress monitoring easy.

  9. P R says:

    Growth reports are great to show to parents at conferences to show the progress of their children.

  10. LeeAnn Needham says:

    Thanks. I think we all know and believe this, but I also know that with high stakes testing, students who aren’t on track to do well on the test are moved towards special programs so that modifications can be put in place. Rather than looking for labels for these kids we should look at and play to their strengths.

  11. JoAnn Mayfield says:

    I like to look at the student’s growth report because it shows where they were and where they may go. Not all students will achieve proficiency, but they can all show growth.

  12. Rita Platt says:

    I think looking at growth is critical for students. They must see themselves learning.

  13. Alecia Walkuski says:

    I think it is important to have multiple measures for students, just as the article suggests. STAR alone isn’t enough–classroom assessments, observations, and teacher expertise are also important when discussing student growth and potential.

  14. S.Bellomo says:

    Using reading practice, individualized to each student’s needs is a key to success!

  15. Janice says:

    I love to use growth data when conferencing with both parents and students. Parents are happy to learn about individual progress. It makes sense to them.

  16. Virginia Wiedenfeld says:

    Thank you for examples of how to utilize Star to increase student performance!

  17. RENEE P GRAHAM says:

    Such encouraging info. Growth matters so much more than test scores!

  18. Christina says:

    Growth reports are an amazing tool! Great article!

  19. Amy says:

    We test our lower performing students weekly so that we can track their growth.

  20. Jenny says:

    Our PLC’s use these reports.

  21. Dr. Jolanda Roby says:

    What is ALWAYS encouraging for the teachers in my school is seeing (on paper) the growth of their students. This informative and encouraging article allows the ones that are in the trenches to keep their eyes on “growth” and not on test scores!

  22. LQT says:

    We track reading growth to see how students are progressing. The Star assessment & star early literacy assessment help target & Inform us of the skills they a lacking.

  23. Lisa Folkema says:

    We primarily focus on the growth of our students with little regard to proficiency. Action toward special ed testing is not preformed until we have monitored and exhausted all resources available. Keeping our students in the general ed population is the goal…as long as they show growth. We feel that students who ‘just need to catch up a little’ WILL catch up and eventually be proficient!

  24. Amber AuBain says:

    Great article!