Student growth model: What does it really measure?


Here are some comments about Wednesday’s article with the new test scores:

Georgia Student Growth Model (GSGM) — What does it really measure?

The Georgia Student Growth Model (GSGM) does not measure what the average person thinks of when they hear the word “growth.”

If the height of a plant was 3 inches last week and 5 inches this week, we would say that it grew 2 inches during the week. That is what we think of when we hear the word growth.

Let’s apply this to athletics. In a standing broad jump, a student jumps 36 inches one year, but can jump 40 inches the next year. The student’s growth in long jump ability is 4 inches.

But that is not the way it works in Georgia. If we used the Georgia Student Growth Model, we would record the distance jumped during year 1 for every student in a given grade level for the entire state.

We would compare all the distances jumped and put each individual student distance in order from least to greatest.

We would divide the distances into four groups, with an equal number of students in each group and see where the student’s distance can be found, based on those four groups.

Will they be in the top jumping group, the second place group, the third place group, or the lowest jumping group?

Next year, we will give a different test because the standards are different every year.

In year 2, we will measure how many sit-ups the students can do in one minute. We will take all the scores, list them from least to greatest, and put them into four groups. Then we will go back and compare the student ranking from last year’s group with the student ranking from this year’s group. If the student ranking increases within their assigned group, the student will be awarded credit for “student growth.”

Why are we doing this?

The tests that are being used are not designed to measure growth because they measure specific content within one grade level. Because the tests are different every year and the growth rating is relative to the achievement of other students, there is NO PROOF of actual academic growth.

It is a relative measure that compares completely different skills with completely different tests. It is not a measure of actual student achievement.

Zero sum game: survival of the fittest in education.

This new “growth” model is a zero sum game. If all the students in the state of Georgia advanced their reading level by 3 years in just one year’s time, it would not register as growth because everyone improved.

In addition, since the tests measure rigid grade level skills, they cannot measure academic gains outside of the narrowly defined government standards. With this system, for every “winner” there has to be a “loser.”

For every student that shows “growth” using this model, another student needs to show “decline” relative to the other students.

If every student in the state failed the test, the “growth” model would not register the poor performance because the “growth” measure is based on the performance of the students compared to other students.

The measure is not objective and cannot be correlated with actual academic growth. It creates a “survival of the fittest” numbers game where it is impossible for every student in the state of Georgia to show growth, even if students do make significant academic gains.

Only 50 percent of the students will be able to show “growth.” It makes it impossible for half of our students and half of our teachers to show “growth.”

How will the Georgia Student Growth Percentage be used?

The Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM), as calculated by Georgia’s State Department of Education, is the number used to evaluate teachers. Fifty percent of the TEM score is based on “student growth.”

Under the new evaluation system, half of the teachers in the state of Georgia will not show growth.

The TEM has four categories: Exemplary, Proficient, Needs Improvement and Ineffective. Teachers with two low evaluation ratings in four years will lose their teaching certificate. Teachers with low evaluations will not receive step pay increases.

The stakes could not be higher with teacher certification and compensation on the line, but the odds are still are 50-50.

Georgia’s State Department of Education has a script that they are distributing to the school districts that describe Georgia’s Student Growth Model as a percentage. School districts are telling teachers that everybody has to grow. But they are not telling them that statistically everybody can’t grow, even if everybody actually did grow.

Student “growth” percentages are not based on measurable academic achievement — they are based on the scores of other students in the state of Georgia and on tests that are different every year, tests that are not even written yet, tests that will be graded by Georgia teachers across the state.

Educational leaders talk about being able to compete internationally, but this test measures how students perform relative to other Georgia students, not the rest of the world.

If we really wanted to measure academic growth, we would compare a student’s present performance with the student’s past performance, using a comparable measure.

So if last year we were recording jumping ability in inches, we would need to record jumping ability in inches this year to show growth, not the number of sit-ups in a minute.

Tests that measure reading level, math level and writing ability can measure student growth over time. These are the kinds of tests that can actually measure academic growth.

The amount of time required for testing in grades 3-8 this year is more than double the time required last school year. The Georgia State DOE now needs two days for the math test, two days for the science test, two days for the social studies test and three days for the language arts test. In high school, the testing window increased from five days to 10 days.

With so much time spent on state mandated testing, parents and community members need to insist on effective and fair testing. Playing numbers games with high stakes tests that affect the lives Georgia’s students and teachers is destructive and unfair, and it needs to stop.

Mary Kay Bacallao
Fayetteville, Ga.

[Ms. Bacallao is a former member of the Fayette County Board of Education. Earlier this year, she ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for state school superintendent.]