Message from Dr. Scarsella
Last month, I outlined the three basic tenants of the new federal K-12 accountability law commonly referred to as ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act.) As you may recall, those three tenants were all students achieving at high levels, all students attending school every day and all schools maintaining positive climates. I’d like to focus my message this month on that first tenant – all students achieving at high levels.
When I read a statement like “all students achieving at high levels,” I automatically question how achievement is measured. Public educators have been debating that question for decades. Usually, they fall into two camps: One camp of educators that say achievement should be based on student proficiency, and a second camp of educators that say achievement should be based on student growth. So, what’s the difference?
Historically, certainly during the days of No Child Left Behind (NCLB,) achievement was measured by student proficiency. Proficiency sets a minimum level of achievement that all students are expected to meet at the end of a grade level regardless of where they start. Proficiency sets minimum expectations for what students have to know. If a student meets or exceeds those minimum expectations, they are said to be proficient at their grade level. Assessments like ISAT and PARCC have historically measured achievement using proficiency. The first camp of educators believes you either meet minimum grade level expectations or you don’t. End of story.
But what about a student who has a disability or really struggled academically in the prior grades but made tremendous performance gains, yet didn’t quite reach the minimum expectations for their current grade level? Unfortunately, although the student made tremendous gains, that student is not proficient, i.e., not performing at grade level. The second camp of educators believes this is an unfair way of assessing student achievement. These educators believe you should measure achievement by how much a student grew during the school year taking into account where they started. This camp believes in measuring achievement using growth. They would say, “It’s the growth, stupid.”
Which camp of educators do you think is right? Should we measure student achievement using proficiency or should we measure student achievement using growth? Luckily, Illinois rightly decided that this shouldn’t be an either/or proposition. Under the state’s new ESSA accountability plan, student achievement will be measured using both proficiency and growth. Schools will be held accountable not only for making sure students are meeting minimum expectations at each grade level but how much students grew academically during that same time period. This is a drastic departure from prior years when NCLB set a standard of either you are or either you are not achieving.
I join my colleagues across the state in thanking the Illinois State Board of Education for listening to public educators and parents as we pleaded for a more balanced approach to measuring student achievement. Under ESSA, both camps won. When our new school report cards are released at the end of the month, the public will be able to see data for both how much students are growing and how many students are meeting minimum expectations. The measurements may not be perfect this year while the state board implements this new philosophy and they will most certainly need tweaking, but the philosophy behind the measurements sure is a lot better than previous years.
I look forward to seeing many of you at our elementary Halloween festivities later this month. As part of our updated safety plans, a uniformed police officer will be at both Palos West and Palos East for our annual Halloween parade and afternoon room parties. Please do not be alarmed if you see them. This is just another added layer of safety as we continually look for ways to make our schools the safest possible place for students.
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