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Progress in Education

By Staff | Feb 10, 2017

I recently watched the Senate confirmation hearing with Betsy DeVos. For those that don’t know, she is Donald Trump’s nominee to run the United States Education Department. While I am going to keep most of my comments to myself on DeVos’ qualifications to run the U.S. Ed. Dept., there was one striking issue she seemed to not understand that makes me worried about her being qualified.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken asked DeVos about whether she believed that schools should be judged based upon a growth model or upon a proficiency model. For those in education, this has been an ongoing debate for years and is, perhaps, one of the most important issues in education and the way we judge quality of schools. For her not to understand the issue is a red flag for all educators. I, for one, am quite concerned and shocked that she wasn’t informed. As I was telling my wife about this, she seemed to not know and that’s when it hit me that something so important to education is far from public knowledge. To that end, welcome to class. Today’s topic is growth model vs. proficiency model. Our learning goal is to understand what a proficiency model is.

Before we really get going, let’s go back to No Child Left Behind. This governmental mandate set standards of proficiency that every school had to meet or they would be faced with governmental sanctions (such as loss of funding, adding additional time to the school day, having extra professional development for teachers, and, in extreme cases, the expulsion of teaching staff and governmental takeover of the public school). This model of school evaluation is what led to the high stakes testing you hear about (we use the North Dakota State Assessment) through which we judge schools. These tests are designed to examine the proficiency of students in English, math, and science.

At this point, you may be asking what does proficiency mean and how do we know if someone is proficient? In basic terms, for a student to be proficient, they have to be able to demonstrate they understand the content and skills at their grade level. This means a 12th grader can read and do math at a 12th grade level, a 3rd grader can read and do math at a 3rd grade level, etc. These expectations were set by a group of teachers who reviewed the state standards and decided what proficiency should be.

Under the proficiency model, schools are judged based upon the number of students who are proficient at their grade level. Not every grade level is tested for proficiency however. Only students in grades 4-8, and in grade 11 are tested through the state assessment for math and English, and only grade 4, 8, and 11 are tested through the state assessment for science. This means that the quality of an elementary school is judged based on 4-6th grader’s scores, junior high is judged based on 7-8th grader’s scores, and high schools are judged based on 11th grader’s scores.

In the next column, I will examine what a growth model is and explore the implications for schools that these models hold. 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: jjenkins@minotdailynews.com.

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