Growth vs. Proficiency

I usually take copious notes when attending conferences. It’s more of a self-discipline gesture to make me sit up straight and pay attention. I even try to sit in the front row. (The only time this backfired was in Psychology 101 when the professor had to talk about herpes and I was sporting a gargantuan one of the simplex 1 type on my upper lip. Not cool.)

I’m sharing the following notes from last year’s SDB Conference because we passionately voiced and argued — and confirmed and challenged — one another’s thinking and teaching practice.

Before discussing the topic of “growth vs. proficiency” within our small groups, we were asked to answer these two questions individually:

  1. What is the difference between growth and proficiency?
  2. How can we measure both accurately?

I wrote:

  1. Growth is individual progress, whereas proficiency is achieving some set of standards. One can grow but not achieve proficiency.
  2. Not sure. Can we ever measure these two things accurately?

Then the conversations began, and I jotted down some stuff:

  1. Growth is more social, proficiency is more academic.
  2. Both must be motivated.
  3. Both cannot be fostered if the classroom culture and teacher mindset are not in sync.
  4. Both must address how a kid learns best.
  5. A young child appreciates nature, but knowing the golden ratio is cool and requires knowing division.
  6. No one is born proficient, without growth, there’s no proficiency.
  7. We need to let growth and proficiency be time independent.
  8. It’s wrong that a kid can’t get a high school diploma when she’s a brilliant artist and can’t do algebra 1.
  9. We need to teach kids to reach their own goals instead of ours.
  10. To achieve proficiency, we should have standards, and we should agree on them.
  11. Types of tests should not be designed for the ease of testing.
  12. Proficiency: report card for the school, reputation of the institution, snapshot at that time. Growth: distance traveled over time, point A to point B can be a dramatic growth.
  13. Story archived on NPR: A teacher brought up a low group of kids to meet standards and was awarded, but she was penalized when she had a high group of kids and they didn’t see growth.
  14. Students think they are what their grade is.
  15. When you measure proficiency, you can see growth over time.
  16. Proficiency ≠ Excellence
  17. Setting the bar is not a teacher thing, it’s an admin thing — if you don’t make proficiency, you go to PI, and PI is hell.
  18. We teach to a bell curve, and we teachers are a bell curve. One size does not fit all.
  19. Growth is more individual, many different aspects of that kid, such as attitude, mindset, social behavior. Proficiency is more measurable, toward a whole group, show mastery, attach a number to this measure.
  20. Suggestions: students track their own progress, journaling, blogging; teacher is transparent in their expectations.

Some questions:

  1. What about teacher proficiency?
  2. Can we combine growth and proficiency? Can they be quantified?
  3. Growth is effort, how do you measure that?
  4. How do we strike a balance between growth and proficiency?
  5. How do get politicians out of this process?
  6. Who decides what proficiency means? Do students have a voice in this? (Teachers grade differently.)
  7. How can we communicate with everyone else to put equal weight between growth and proficiency? (We’re on a constant treadmill to keep up with the changes.)
  8. Portfolios are good, but how do you implement and grade them?
  9. Project-based learning has pros and cons, how do you give a grade for that?
  10. Are students learning social interactions, problem solving, communication, collaboration?

Two thoughts precipitated from this discussion for me, then and now. It might be that our schools are set up to measure proficiency, but they misinterpret those scores as measures of growth. And however we choose to define growth vs. proficiency, how do we ensure equal access to promote growth and proficiency? Professor William Tate, earlier in April at NCTM Annual Meeting, gave the Iris M. Carl Equity Address, he said, “The greatest threat to math instruction is the empty seat problem.”

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