Which wins; Proficiency or Growth? The Ongoing Debate


Mrs DeVos, Betsy, has been getting a lot of air time today and for good reason. During her confirmation she was asked questions around the age old debate in the education space around proficiency vs. growth as a way of measuring our students. Not a difficult question for anyone in the sector, or indeed anyone outside of the sector, but it appeared to cause DeVos to stumble and confuse proficiency and growth altogether. Not a great start for someone who is supposed to be the Secretary for Education for the whole United States of America. Not to understand the fundamentals behind how we measure progression of students, or to even be able to debate on that matter is somewhat staggering.

Let’s take a step back, to understand the topic some more and leave the politics to one side.

What is Proficiency vs. Growth?

(You could pick up some tips here Betsy!)
proficiency vs growth table

If you look at the above table, you can see the difference between measuring by growth and measuring proficiency. With proficiency you can see that students who don’t meet the required proficient levels will not meet the mark, and the ones who exceed the level will not be advanced in anyway. With growth, you’re measured on how far you’ve come within the year. You growth and what you’ve learned, rather than a pass/fail. Proficiency and growth are measured with assessments, as you have to understand somehow, but proficiency results are pass/fail vs. this is your level compared to before. As such the assessments for growth are structured differently.

Now, one thing that I don’t like about the debate is the binary proficiency vs. growth options. Much like pass vs. fail. It’s one or the other, which goes against what growth sets out to achieve. Inclusion of everyone. No child left behind.

We need to find a way of ensuring proficiency across our students, there is no doubt about it. Growth is all well and good but if you have a whole school where growth is great, but the level they’re reaching is well below the standards for their age, where does that leave you?

This is why we need to really understand more about how our students learn best. Our whole aim is that no child should be left behind, everyone should have the same access to education at the same level as anyone else, that is right for them. Yet this comes with a cost. That cost is changing the way we measure and understand our students. It also means looking at the efficacy of our teaching, the content and delivery methods. Of course, I’m a data person, so I think it has to be a data driven solution, but I believe that it is not simply a data solution but a data solution on a individual level.

I’ve written before about there is no such thing as an average student, so why are our measurements all based as such? And why are our delivery methods the same? And why is the content the same for everyone?

Education is a big ship to turn, but unless we rethink our approach in measurement it’ll be even slower to turn and students will get left behind.