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Educators spend their careers ensuring students are mastering curriculum and reaching their full potential. Mastery of curriculum can be captured through a variety of measures including coursework grades, interim assessments, and targeted assessments focused on specific skills such as language and reading. Depending on the type of measure, information is most effectively used at points in time within a school year to ensure students are performing at grade level, and/or across years to assess whether students are making adequate progress from year to year. Both aspects of measurement are important to knowing whether a student masters the content expected for a specific course and whether that student is adequately prepared for promotion. 

The growth made in a single year is equally as important as the threshold hit at the end of the year. Ideally, every student should make a year of growth within a given school year. Since students rarely start a school year exactly at grade level (they are either above or below the beginning of the year benchmark), various assessments can be used to track progress within a school year. The first area in which students need to demonstrate mastery in the early years is reading as it is the foundation of learning in all other subject areas. Without this strong foundation, students can struggle through their entire educational career. Many districts and states use early reading assessments starting as early as kindergarten to gain an understanding of student performance and measure progress within the year and in subsequent years. 

Monitoring and planning for students’ learning in all core subject areas requires frequent assessments within a school year. In addition to class grades, many educators administer periodic local assessments, commonly referred to as benchmark or interim assessments, to assess student knowledge and mastery of content taught at the classroom level. Results help instructors make mid-course corrections to ensure students are mastering course content and staying on track for making at least one year of growth.

There is no single metric or test that is a perfect indicator of likely success, so many states and districts use a combination of indicators to assess students’ academic progress. These include measures of past growth, measures that use past growth as a means to project future success on standardized tests, and measures that tie student growth to individual educators, programs, or interventions. In recent years, these indicators have gained momentum because the United States Department of Education is now allowing academic growth as an alternative means for meeting performance standards under the federal accountability system.

Growth measures, ranging from simple to complex statistical calculations, can show how much growth a student, classroom, or campus is making over time. All types of growth measures are an important complementary measure to absolute performance because low-performing students or campuses may not meet proficiency standards, but may be making tremendous growth through the year. Conversely, high-performing students and campuses may show strong performance on tests and benchmarks, but may not be making a full year of growth.

Targeted assessments for specific student populations, periodic assessments such as benchmarks and course grades, and growth collectively provide a well-rounded picture of a student and how the student is progressing and projected to progress for each grade level. English language learners are a growing segment of the school-aged population who require additional support. Language assessments can give educators key insight into areas where an English language learner may need special support and instruction. Assessment data from multiple sources can help to systematically improve all levels of the education system by informing all levels of educators about strengths and weaknesses within the system (Pinkus, 2009).

Related Metrics

The following metrics are documented in this section:


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