Proficiency or Growth: Why the Debate Matters

Proficiency or growth

This debate isn’t just theoretical. In the long run, both proficiency and growth are valuable indicators. If a student cannot be deemed proficient by high-school – he is sure to face difficulty in college and career. Similarly, if a student fails to show reasonable progress – it is certain that he would be left behind that would, eventually, prevent him from achieving his full potential.

The balance between the two – the proficiency targets and the growth targets – is important. If a teacher neglects the proficiency targets, students, who fail to meet the established standards, enter college strapped of skills necessary for college and essential for a fruitful career. On the other hand, if a teacher attends only to proficiency targets –he would end up devaluing his students. The gifted students, who find it easy to meet targets, would feel ignored and remain under-challenged; while struggling students, who find the targets difficult, may end up being sidestepped.

Defining clear student learning-goals is an important step. Measureable, short-term and long-term goals are the key. Teachers should have a clear idea about the amount of improvements that they expect their students to make. They should be justifiable, and they should be appropriate. If there are students who are visibly weaker than other students and risk not meeting the End-of-year proficiency targets – teachers should consider developing tiered-growth targets.

Student data plays an important role here. Collecting meaningful student data thus should be the first step. To create effective learning goals, teachers need to establish how well prepared the students are for the next lesson. Diagnostic assessments – which we call as pre-tests – can help teachers establish the learning gaps. Once a teacher has established students’ strengths and weaknesses, it becomes easier to assign practice, enrichments and interventions.

Next step is to establish to which students these learning goals will apply to.  The majority population would find it challenging to meet the proficiency targets, but there would be students for whom achieving proficiency would be an easy target, and there would be those who would find it impossible. Teachers should establish growth targets for a population.  Such arrangements help tap the potential of all students.

That said, it is the school administration that plays a central role in the process of target setting. It is their encouragement that fuels the school staff to consider the targets they want to use. While growth targets help acknowledge students’ innate potential and allow the teachers to ensure apt growth; proficiency targets help keep students on track to college and career readiness.

It’s not an easy choice- proficiency or growth? However, an open culture that allows everyone to explore students’ potential may trigger conversations, which would ultimately ensure both proficiency and growth.


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