Are teachers being assigned the type of students they are best suited to help?
Are students on track to meet their educational goals?
With influential factors equalized, is the school performing as it should?
If not, why not, and what adjustments should be made to programs, practices and policies?
Trying to answer those questions based on a snapshot of standardized test results could be misleading or incomplete, because test scores don’t account for where students started or the challenges they face during the school year. Savvy educators are adopting a more comprehensive approach: student growth measures.
Instead of seeing how many of a teacher’s students pass or fail state tests – or how their scores compare with other students – they examine how much students have grown during the year and across years. Student growth models reflect a shift from a focus on student achievement at a point in time to a view of students’ academic progress, whatever their entering achievement level or background.
A comprehensive view of student learning includes two parts – reflective and predictive analytics:
- Reflective student growth and diagnostic reports assess the effectiveness of previous instruction, curriculum, programs and other academic supports.
- Projection reports predict how a student will likely perform in the future, so you can proactively plan interventions and enrichment opportunities.
Ideally, these two parts work as a continuous feedback loop.
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Diagnostic reports offer detailed analysis about the growth of various student groups including students grouped by achievement level and demographic information.
The Every Student Succeeds Act requires states and districts to report on academic indicators disaggregated by a variety of student characteristics. The new student groups that must be reported on under ESSA include foster, homeless and military-connected youth. While diagnostic growth reports allow states to meet this requirement, more importantly, they provide the data needed to ensure all students are making adequate academic progress.
“Looking at patterns and trends in the district and school diagnostic reports helped my instructional coaches and me work together to place teachers with students where data shows they are more effective,” said one assistant principal. “This has helped us improve the academic growth of all our students.”
Accurate measures of school performance are critical to improved student learning. These measures are especially important when turning around the lowest-performing schools that often serve the most vulnerable students. Schools cannot control the readiness of the students when they enter the classroom. With student growth measures, schools are not penalized if their classes include many children who arrive working below grade level nor are they evaluated on one year’s worth of data. More robust and reliable student growth models utilize all students’ data over multiple years to provide a more accurate school performance measure.
Student-level projections offer a reliable probability of success to a certain benchmark, such as proficiency on the next grade’s state-mandated assessment in a subject or a particular score on college readiness exams. The results help administrators refine teaching assignments and help teachers refine their instructional approaches. For example, a teacher who has been very successful with high-achieving students might teach an honors course.
Projections can be used to set school-level proficiency targets for accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Using projections for school-level proficiency targets provides educators with the ability to make data-based decisions based on students’ needs, strengths and likely performance.
“Having student projections for my course and for other college readiness indicators helps me tailor my instruction accordingly,” said a former state Teacher of the Year. “I can put interventions in place much sooner, and then I can see if the student is on the right track to achieving his or her academic goals.”
Teachers and school leaders can use individual student projections to ensure that every student is reaching their full potential. Schools can increase college-readiness by using projections to Advanced Placement exams or SAT/ACT exams to determine which students are prepared for more rigorous coursework in high school.
Statistical complexity made easy
The computations behind all of this require advanced analytics – millions of calculations using established statistical techniques such as multivariate response models and analysis of covariance regression models, which have been applied in many other industries. This robust approach ensures a fair and reliable measure that mitigates test measurement error, missing test data and different test types.
Fortunately, teachers and administrators don’t have to be statistical gurus to work with the reporting system and get value from the results. A solid student growth reporting system takes advantage of the navigation tools and interface conventions that make online applications easy to use. For example:
- Information can be displayed side by side in multiple views – graphically and in a chart. The graph provides an at-a-glance view, while the chart provides the numbers behind the visualization.
- Color coding makes the educational implications of the statistics intuitive with a quick look – such as green for good progress, orange for expected progress and red for trouble spots.
- Rollover text (a short explanation that pops up when moving the cursor over an element) and an embedded Help system can guide users, perhaps with built-in video tutorials.
- Interactive systems let users customize queries and focus on specific areas of interest, essentially creating custom reports without having to do any programming.
A tool for education professionals at all levels
K-12 schools are increasingly adopting web-based, interactive reporting systems that include reflective, diagnostic and predictive tools for school improvement. Educators can drill into results and trends across multiple years based on various student characteristics and achievement levels – by student, teacher, school or district.
With advanced student growth reporting:
- Teachers can measure student progress objectively and accurately to improve instruction.
- Principals can strategically plan equitable learning opportunities.
- Policy makers have rigorous longitudinal analysis of student performance to guide better decisions.