Confirmation hearings have dominated news in the past few days and one in particular has made headline. Betsy DeVos’s hearing to be Secretary of Education has made headlines by failing to answer a basic question on education policy: Growth vs Proficiency. So why the headlines and why are so many educators concerned about the lack of an answer? First, we must understand what “growth” and “proficiency” are and the impact it has on both educators and students.
Growth focuses on how much students grow and learn relative to where they started. Proficiency, on the other hand, focuses on students reaching a specific benchmark that is the same for all students. Both growth and proficiency can be measured through standardized testing but with growth focused on progressive individual advancement. It is also important to recognize that educators and schools are judged based on these outcomes and focus on specific tactics in order to meet the objectives. With growth educators work towards improving outcomes for all students whereas with proficiency it is to try and maximize the number of students reaching a benchmark.
The difference, while it appears subtle, is significant. With proficiency based policy since a student either meets the benchmark or not educators focus on students closest to the benchmark in order to ensure they meet or exceed it. Students that far exceed the benchmark or far too far below stagnate as they either do not need assistance or there is a lack of resources for helping them achieve the standard. Whereas when policy is created with growth in mind students across the spectrum thrive. This policy based on growth is popular, if not the standard, amongst private schools as care and attention is given to each student so that they shall progressively grow. You can try this for yourself by reading the mission and values statements for private schools, almost all of them speak of academic excellence in a nurturing environment that focuses on growth.
Which brings us back to why the confirmation hearing dominated dominated headlines. Education is a critical part of every nation’s long term success and well being; policy should focus on ensuring that every student can continue to grow continuously towards an ever higher goal.