My grad program is encouraging us to define “one year’s progress” in our courses and measure how much progress each of our students makes against that. The goal as I understand it is for me to keep my attention on whether or not every student is making (at least) one year’s progress in one year. Clearly some deep thought is needed, given the issues with Value Added to which Dina’s been pointing. I know my job is to encourage and help every student achieve, and I am in favor of anything that tells me when that’s not happening. I know some students are harder to help, for a huge number of important reasons, and if I start shying away from them and rationalizing it, I want alarms to go off.

But what *should *“one year’s growth” be?

For algebra II students that are “behind” (*i.e.,* have gaps in standards mastery from prior years), one year’s growth should mean “whatever is needed to meet this year’s standards” and thus be different for each student. Since I’m planning to use standards-based grading, the grade students earn in my course will measure how much I met this goal. I might during the year plot their grade in my class vs. their state math test score from last year and see if there’s any structure to the graph, but I’m not sure what success would look like on that graph (short of all A’s independent of test score last year).

For kids that are “ahead” (ie have mastered prior year standards and perhaps have made some progress already toward this year’s), I don’t believe that one year’s growth should take them on ahead into next year’s content but rather should deepen and broaden their ability to connect, apply, and extend the content from the current year. In short, I would think extra development on process standards would benefit them more than jumping into next year’s content. And it would be fascinating to think about how to measure and document that kind of progress. But that’s a much less well defined project. Neither my state frameworks nor the common core makes any attempt to document what those processes look like in 11th grade that’s different from 10th grade, they just say students should do all the practices every year. So measuring growth on these things feels like bedrock research.

That raises the question of how I intend to assess them at all. I think for now I will be looking at whether students try these processes fruitfully, try them unfruitfully (or illogically), or don’t try them at all. Maybe trying to distinguish between giving a grade of 4 or 3 on *Generalizing* will teach me something about what growth of mathematical process looks like.

The notion of progress or growth or development always implies some direction, however vague. What’s the rubric for maturity, for example? How could we document whether each student has made one year’s progress on character? I don’t think defining one year’s progress in mathematics should be as difficult as that. But there’s no doubt that this spring, I will have a much easier time saying how far each student is from mastering the course objectives than to say how far that student has grown since fall.

One year’s growth is difficult to define. If all your students are starting out at about the same place, plus or minus a little, it isn’t too hard to say, as you did here, that ‘one year’s growth should mean “whatever is needed to meet this year’s standards”,’ but if the students start out 3 years behind or already knowning everything you are scheduled to teach, the problem is much more difficult.

High schools that do a good job of placing students by achievement (so that everyone in the class is roughly ready for the same material) make things much easier for the teachers and the students. I suspect that the “value-added” measures show more advancement in more homogeneous classes, but so far as I know, there have not been any attempts to look at this.

Good discussion of some of the problems of value-added approaches in the comments on my blog:

http://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/value-added-teacher-ratings/

Thanks – Your post and the comments on it make a great intro.