Growth, Proficiency, and Grizzly Bears

The Bears Know, Y'all!Here at Meaningful Connections, I normally stay far away from politics. I’m all about middle ground, y’all. But there are certain issues we all learn about that just beg to be discussed. An unfortunate Congressional hearing involving education falls into that category. The difference between growth and proficiency has been spread across our newsfeeds like grizzly bear scat under our school’s monkey bars.

When a potential Secretary of Education has as little knowledge of the issues facing us today as the one currently interviewing for the job, we have a severe problem. Personally, I’m stuck on the growth versus proficiency debate. I’ve been testing kids for years who struggle to meet the arbitrary proficiency line; they make amazing growth, but because they can’t meet the state’s mark, we’re all deemed unsuccessful. It kind of feels like being pinned under the monkey bars when all those grizzly bears pay a visit.

Just in case you are as confused about the meaning of growth versus proficiency in educational assessment as our poor Secretary of Education candidate, I’m right here for you to clear it up. I’ve been studying a little on it this week. I’m also going to abandon the middle ground on this one.

In order for students to be deemed proficient in any one subject area, they have to achieve a particular score on a special test. In my state, there are content review committees where teachers get to approve or trash certain questions on said tests. I don’t know how the test creation process works in other states. The test content and the passing scores in those places may or may not have been written or decided by actual educators. In fact, for all we know, there could be a secret contingent of bears running the whole test company.

Humans and bears aside, the proficiency model can make life difficult for our kids. If a student enters my upper elementary classroom in September with few literacy skills (true story), it is unlikely that the child will meet the proficiency mark by June. I, like my esteemed colleagues across the country, will give that student every bit of help possible to close that literacy gap. This student will make growth in my class (and in those of my colleagues across the country, too). Come proficiency test time, though, we all may as well go sit under the monkey bars.

On the flip side, let’s surmise that a student reading on the 10th grade level enters my upper elementary classroom in September. To be honest, this kid could have probably passed my grade level’s proficiency test two years ago. Even if the student’s growth stagnates in my classroom, we’re all still deemed proficient. How is that fair?

Enter the growth model. Even if some random bear sets the rate of growth deemed acceptable for the kids I teach, all my students are praised for the growth they make. I’m not a big fan of trophies for everyone, by any means, and the growth model doesn’t give away praise for free. If the struggling student gains multiple reading levels in my classroom, the growth model would deem our year together as a successful one. If the child reading above grade level stays at the same spot for two semesters, the growth model would deem our year unsuccessful. In theory, the growth model allows every child to run his or her own academic race to the top. Do you see what I did there?

Neither growth nor proficiency is the perfect model. At least with the growth model, every kid gets to summit at his or her own level. No student or school staff member is faced with a mountain that’s impossible or too easy to climb. Except for the grizzly bear exterminator. That’s a rough job right there!

In the spirit of the aforementioned current events, I’ve created a new Teachers Pay Teachers product. It’s a cross between a public service message on grizzly bear safety and an opportunity to teach young readers about functional text features and author’s purpose. Check it out using the link below! Additionally, since we’ve all been learning new things this week, this post has been linked to Mama Kat’s World Famous Writing Workshop!


4 thoughts on “Growth, Proficiency, and Grizzly Bears

  • January 30, 2017 at 3:03 am

    I have been watching this issue closely as well. Very, very worrisome.I like the idea of watching for growth. To me, that seems that it would be key for each child and their personal potential.

  • January 31, 2017 at 6:33 am

    The choices being made recently make me feel like this country is going backwards in so many ways! I definitely join you in worrying about our kids education!


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