Welcome back to class everyone! Over the last two columns, I have talked about what the proficiency model is and what the growth model is. Our topic today is the impact of each model in the evaluation of a school. Our learning goal is to understand how each model affects schools. You will have to determine for yourself which is the best model.
Under the proficiency model of school evaluation, the state and government look at the number of students who reach proficiency in the school in a given year. You will recall that elementary schools are judged by the number of students proficient in grades 4-6, junior high schools are judged by the number of students proficient in grades 7-8, and high schools are judged by the number of students proficient in grade 11. This is the model that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) followed. Under NCLB, students had to reach a certain Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) to show that they had proficient students. If they were under the required AYP, then sanctions, such as the pulling of funding, would be levied against the school.
What does this mean for Minot and for North Dakota though? To illustrate what this means, I am going to be using information from the Magic City Campus High School district profile from 2015-16 (this can be found on the ND Department of Public Instruction
website: www.nd.gov/dpi/report/Profile/ ).
According to this data, Magic City High School had 449 students take the NDSA (North Dakota State Assessment) in English/Language Arts. Of those students, only 49% were considered proficient. For the state of North Dakota, 6806 students took this assessment and only 54.8% were shown to be proficient. You may find these numbers alarming and perhaps they are. Many would look at at this and say that the schools are failing to meet the educational demands for over half of the students. Certainly, under NCLB, this would not comply with AYP and the school would be under review for sanctions.
If we use the growth model, however, a very different picture of what is happening in Minot and in North Dakota schools would be presented. As we haven't used a growth model in the past, there aren't public figures in order to illustrate, so I will explain how this model would look for a school. The proficiency level of students would be reviewed and we'd see that Minot High School has a 49% proficiency rate, however, the journey into review would end there. The students' progress throughout their educational journey would be considered. Growth data, such as the NWEA, discussed in a previous column, would be considered. Individual students would be looked at to see if they have been learning and making gains in their education. If they were, then the school would be considered as being successful and meeting the appropriate educational needs of the students.
The main difference here is the way in which students are viewed and the expectations of schools. In the proficiency model, students are all treated the same. The proficiency model says that every students should be able to perform at their expected grade level. The belief is that if a student cannot perform at proficiency level, it is because the school failed to provide adequate support to the student. In the growth model, student learning is the focus. The growth model says that every student learns differently and at different rates. The belief is that if a student is not at proficiency level, there are other factors that may have influenced this and need to be looked at. This model looks to see that there is growth in the student's learning and, as long as students are learning, then the school is doing its job.
If you're having trouble with this, think of it in terms of football. Do we judge a high school football team by it's ability to win games or do we judge it by it's ability to grow student's ability and athletic prowess? From a proficiency model, we would judge the team by the games it wins. We would believe that winning a game shows that the athletes know and are properly skilled in playing football. Because they have mastered the level of playership required, they should be able to win games. If the team is not winning games, it is because the coaches have not done their proper duty to prepare the students. From a growth model, we would judge the team by the athleticism and skill increase of the individual students. We would believe that win or lose, what is important is that we see growth in the skills and knowledge of the athletes. While some may have mastered the level of playership required, we understand that every student competes differently and grows their athleticism differently. If the team is not winning games but we see that the students are increasing their skill and knowledge, we don't blame the coaches, rather we accept that they are working hard to fulfill their duty.
So...what is the best model? This is where the debate is. Just as with football, where there are people who believe that all that matters is winning; there are those who believe that all that matters is that students are proficient. On the other side, there are those who believe that as long as students are learning and increasing their skills, then their education is successful. I often believe that the side most people fall on is determined by the type of child they have. For those who have very high achieving and self motivated children, proficiency seems to be the best measure. After all, if their child can do it, shouldn't everyone else's child be expected to as well? For those who have students who struggle with school, growth seems to be the best measure. After all, their child is trying hard but just has trouble, why should the school or student be punished because it is difficult for them?
You can see why this is such a complex issue and, because it has dire consequences to the public school system, the way in which our governmental officials view schools will have a huge impact. You will have to make up your mind for yourself in what way you think is best. I have my own view and, though I was trying to be impartial, it may have come out in these columns. I would love to have a discussion with others on this. If you feel strongly one way or another, I encourage you to reach out to me via email or, even better, to write a letter to the editor on this issue and how you would like to see your public school evaluated. I hope to see you for the next class, but for today, class is dismissed.
Jacob Jenkins is an English teacher at Central High School. He holds a Master of Educational Leadership degree from UND and is currently working on completing a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership through UND. He is the son of Deb and the late Bob Jenkins, of Rugby. The opinions and views expressed in these columns represent those of Mr. Jenkins and are in no way representative of Minot Public Schools or the University of North Dakota. Please contact Mr. Jenkins with any comments, opinions, or future ideas you would like to read about at: firstname.lastname@example.org.