Measuring Student Growth: Students and Teachers Succeeding Together

Could you ever imagine an instance where students’ low achievement is a good thing? Several teachers that I have talked to recently were asked to assess student learning as part of the SLO process at the beginning of the year. They each assumed that when student pre-assessment performance is low, growth is easier to attain.

Is that true? How can this be? 

It’s easy to see how the pressures and complexity of measuring student growth have produced confusion, and worse, have reinforced weak assessment practices.  But all is not hopeless-- in fact, the very idea that we as a school community are wrestling with measuring the progress our students make is a promising sign that student growth matters!

In this blog I cannot address all of the misconceptions that abound about creating sound measures of student growth, but I can connect the work educators have been doing statewide to deepen their formative instructional practices to the work of measuring growth in classrooms. My intention is to show that students AND teachers can be successful when you apply FIP thinking to the SLO challenge.

Through our formative instructional practices (FIP) work, teachers across Ohio have learned about the power of strong classroom assessment to guide student learning and capture the growth they make as a result of standards-focused instruction. FIP offers teachers the tools they need to create and use measures that are helpful to plan instruction and to ensure students can gauge their own progress.

Student growth is simply the difference between where students enter and exit the learning. To measure this distance, we need first to establish what students know when they begin. And herein lies the first opportunity to apply FIP Thinking. Let’s begin by simply illuminating the purpose of pre-assessment.

FIP Thinking about Pre-Assessment:

  • The most crucial component of measuring student growth is to know where your students are in their learning, where they are going, and how to close the gaps.

  • By definition, pre-assessment reveals student mastery of previous learning: where students are ‘entering’ the learning.  The purpose of pre-assessment is to gather and analyze accurate information about what students have already mastered that prepares them for success with the current learning expectations.

  • Pre-assessment is not necessarily a test or a single event. It is the collection of evidence about what students know when they enter the learning, which provides teachers with rich, diagnostic information.

  • Teachers can use this information (evidence of the skills and knowledge students bring to the learning) to determine how they will plan and organize their teaching and to gather additional resources if necessary.

  • When students are assessed properly, not only are they more likely to be receptive to the assessment, they are more likely to better understand where they are in their own learning.

  • Pre-assessments do not have to match post-assessments.  In fact, diagnostic value of the pre-assessment increases when you assess not what hasn’t been taught yet, but what should have been learned already.

This final bullet is the one that often throws educators for a loop. Teachers can use different types of pre- and post-assessment to measure student growth through the use of master rubrics. These rubrics, called PLDs (performance level descriptors) define progressive levels of learning, from novice to mastery. A PLD helps teachers identify where each child enters into the learning by classifying that learning into levels on a progression. Through the course of instruction, teachers can use the PLD to gather evidence of student progress on the essential learning across a PLD.

Here is an example of a single row on a 3rd grade ELA PLD. Teachers can then plan and deliver instruction and assess and monitor student progress for this essential learning. Students who move across the PLD demonstrate their growth. Can you see how something like this might be useful in the SLO process?

The use of classroom measures designed to support student growth is fundamental to FIP. After all, FIP is grounded in the literature about assessment for learning (Stiggins, 2002). As such, when we devise ways to quantify student growth, we must remember to keep our focus on applying only measures that support student learning. After all, we and each of our students need to be able to know where we are, where we are going, and how to close the gaps. With this student-centered orientation to measuring growth, everyone succeeds.

For more about Measuring Student Growth in Classrooms and PLDs you can enroll in these modules:

Measuring Student Growth in Classrooms

Designing Sound Assessment

You can also learn more by attending regional workshops being held across the state. Click here to learn more about our 2015 Regional Trainings