We've been hearing quite a bit about the "proficiency vs. growth" debate since Betsy DeVos (Trump's candidate for Education Secretary) was asked to weigh in last week. This debate involves a disagreement about how high stakes tests should be used to evaluate educational programs. Advocates for proficiency want to reward schools when their students score higher on state tests. Advocates for growth want to reward schools when their students grow more on state tests. Readers who know about Lectica's work can guess where we'd land in this debate—we're outspokenly growth-minded.
For us, however, the proficiency vs. growth debate is only a tiny piece of a broader issue about what counts as learning. Here's a sketch of the situation as we see it:
Getting a higher score on a state test means that you can get more correct answers on increasingly difficult questions, or that you can more accurately apply writing conventions or decode texts. But these aren't the things we really want to measure. They're "proxies"—approximations of our real learning objectives. Test developers measure proxies because they don't know how to measure what we really want to know.
What we really want to know is how well we're preparing students with the skills and knowledge they'll need to successfully navigate life and work.
Scores on conventional tests predict how well students are likely to perform, in the future, on conventional tests. But scores on these tests have not been shown to be good predictors of success in life.*
In light of this glaring problem with conventional tests, the debate between proficiency and growth is a bit of a red herring. What we really need to be asking ourselves is a far more fundamental question:
What knowledge and skills will our children need to navigate the world of tomorrow, and how can we best nurture their development?
That's the question that frames our work here at Lectica.
*For information about the many problems with conventional tests, see FairTest.