A+ Colorado Public Comment: Growth to Standard

Hi, I’m Lisa Berdie and I am the Policy and Research Director at A+ Colorado. I also sit on the state’s Technical Advisory Panel. I am here today on behalf of A+.

Your next agenda item addresses the methodology to calculate whether students are making enough progress to move up or maintain achievement levels on our state assessments of literacy and math. And this is what I want to talk about today: the difference between moving up achievement levels in the process of mastering grade level content (“catch up growth”), and between meeting grade level expectations year after year (“keep up growth).

Growth offers a much richer glance at student learning than solely a point-in-time test score. On track growth will help us answer not just if students in schools are making progress relative to their academic peers (what the median growth percentile tells us), but if students are making enough growth to meet grade level expectations, the Colorado standards.

Thanks to CDE’s great analysis of common growth trajectories for students who were starting in different places academically, we know there is a big difference for students who need to catch up to grade level expectations, and for students who have already met and need to keep up with grade level expectations.

Yet the Department’s recommendation is to combine these two measures — catch up growth and keep up growth — into a single measure for accountability: “on track growth.” This decision is driven solely by the Department’s reporting rules that say you can’t report if 100% of students met or exceeded expectations.

But the problem is that these are two very different measures, and they tell you very different things about the school. We are incredibly concerned that combining “catch up” and “keep up” into a single “on track” measure will obscure meaningful information. Because it is easier to keep up than to catch up, we worry that this measure will skew toward schools that have more students who have already met standards without differentiating them. The average student at a level 4 who has met expectations in English Language Arts needs to have a growth percentile of 34 to “keep up” for three years. Their friend who scored at a level 3 who hasn’t yet met expectations? Needs a growth percentile of 57 to “catch up” a level within 3 years. Yet we’ll say these goals are equivalent and combine them in this “on-track” measure even though the goal for catch up students is much harder to attain. We worry that schools having success with students who need to catch up will be overshadowed.

With this proposed methodology, you won’t be able to tell which schools are doing best for which students, and which might need more support. It will be difficult for families to find the school that is best supporting students to make progress. It complicates educators’ ability to reflect on practice and make meaningful changes.

CDE implemented these rules without stakeholder engagement, and it’s getting in the way of good policy. It is unconscionable that we are rendering data useless because we are bound to a particular set of reporting rules. For data to be meaningful, to drive learning and action, you have to be able to understand what the data actually are. At A+, we hope you push your colleagues at the Department to rethink their prioritization of reporting rules over providing meaningful information about student progress for the benefit of policymakers, educators, and communities alike.