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What is growth?

Growth measures a student’s progress between two or more points of time to demonstrate their progression toward goals or benchmarks, even if the student has not yet achieved proficiency.

Why compare growth?

Proficiency is measured at a single point in time, and the benchmark is the same for every student. In contrast, growth is measured at points over time and reflects progress among those points in time. The static benchmark is replaced by a specific score within a dynamic range of growth—typical, less than typical and greater than typical growth. Because growth compares students to their academic peers, it is possible that a student who falls short of proficiency is actually growing at typical, or higher than typical rate. The same could be said for students who ace the proficiency; yet fail to grow at a typical rate.

Using growth alongside proficiency compels us to take a deeper look at those who learn with ease. Are they challenged enough? With less than typical growth, will they continue to soar in the upper grades? It’s equally important to monitor growth for students who struggle and learn through determination. Is their growth less than typical? Which skill gaps must we address? What if their growth is greater than typical? Isn’t that information motivational for the student?

The comparison of growth and proficiency data can help answer all these questions and more.

How does analyzing growth help students?

Let’s look at two examples.

Doug is in third grade, but he starts the school year reading at a first-grade level. He is not meeting benchmarks. Throughout the fall and winter, his teacher creates an intensive reading practice intervention plan for him. By spring, he scores at a second-grade reading level. Although Doug is still not proficient, his scores indicate that tremendous growth has occurred.

Simone is also in third grade. She starts the year reading at a fourth-grade level. By spring, she again scores at the fourth-grade reading level. Although Simone has flown by benchmarks, she is not growing. Her teacher makes an effort to keep Simone moving along an accelerated path for reading practice.

So which wins—proficiency vs. growth?

By looking at proficiency benchmarks alone, Doug and Simone’s teacher would not have all the information needed to meet the students’ (vastly different) needs. Check out this new blog post for a deeper look at growth vs. proficiency.

Resources and further reading

Betebenner, D. W. (2009). Norm- and criterion-referenced student growth. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 28(4), 42–51.

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