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Student growth measures: What we’ve been missing

November 25, 2019 Phi Delta Kappan

By: Michael Watson, New Classrooms

Two decades ago, the national conversation about how to improve our public education system was full of energy and new ideas. Policy makers across the political spectrum were eager to adopt reforms that would raise the quality of the American educational experience while boosting student outcomes and ensuring our kids would remain competitive in what was then an already globalizing economy. 

The momentum around public education reform ultimately generated significant improvements in two key areas: standards and accountability. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2001, set new federal expectations for school performance and introduced financial consequences for chronic substandard outcomes. The law shone a spotlight on struggling schools and districts that needed more help and resources.  

However, NCLB possessed at least one major blind spot: It did little to measure students’ actual academic growth. By punishing and rewarding schools on the basis of a narrow definition of proficiency — whether their students were mastering grade-level content — the law neglected other key indicators of student learning, such how much progress students were making on other standards. As a result, the entire educational ecosystem, including classroom instruction, was oriented around a single and very limited measure of student performance. 

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