Morgan Polikoff is an associate professor of education policy at the USC Rossier School of Education and the author of a new report that argues strongly for California to adopt a student growth model to evaluate schools, something he says the state could do easily. This would give parents a better idea of how well each school is helping students progress academically. Polikoff also believes that LAUSD should share this information with the public. Growth data was a crucial part of the School Performance Framework that LAUSD had originally promised parents it would roll out this month but that Board Member Jackie Goldberg (BD5) is attempting to stop. The board will vote on Goldberg’s resolution to dismantle the SPF on Nov. 5 and will also decide whether to greenlight the release of student growth data. We spoke to Polikoff about his report and what might be keeping the powers that be from sharing this critical information.
Speak UP: You write that 48 states have some kind of model for measuring student growth, meaning how a group of students is doing this year compared to how that same group of students did last year. California is supposed to be really forward thinking. But we’re one of two states—the other is Kansas—that does not have this. Why?
Morgan Polikoff: I don’t think there is an accepted answer for why we don’t have one. The two likeliest reasons are one, that the previous governor was really not a believer in educational data, in general, and test scores, in particular, and so he didn’t want to invest in this. And two, there has been significant opposition to a growth model from the CTA [California Teachers Association] because of perceptions that it is a slippery slope towards some kind of teacher accountability.
Speak UP: Your report makes a strong argument for using a student level growth model to evaluate and support California’s schools. Why isn’t a fixed snapshot good enough?
Polikoff: A fixed snapshot tells what the average performance is in a school. But it doesn’t tell you how good a job a school is doing at raising performance. What is a school doing during the year in principle? Well, it’s taking kids who come in at a certain point. It’s educating them. And then at the end of the year, it’s seeing how well it did. And when you think about it that way, it’s intuitively clear that what is the measure of school performance is not the average level at the end of the year, rather, how much students learn during the year, which is measured by growth. We also know that just looking at the average performance levels doesn’t work because schools differ so dramatically in the kinds of kids they serve and where those kids come in at. It doesn’t make any sense to compare the average performance levels of a kid from the most disadvantaged neighborhood in South Central with a kid from the most affluent neighborhood in the Valley. Those are different kids and different schools in different contexts. But comparing growth accounts for those differences because you’re comparing each kid to themselves, and you’re really asking, how much are kids at this school learning on average?
Speak UP: The National PTA along with the Data Quality Campaign came out with a brief in September titled, Parents Deserve Clear Information About Student Growth in Schools. So I assume growth data could be a valuable tool for parents to evaluate school options. How might parents use this information?
Polikoff: They might use it in the same way they used to use API or they currently use Great Schools. These are different ways of rating school performance. But as I just said, API or the way they rate schools on Great Schools, those are based typically on just average performance levels. So what you are telling parents is, the best schools are the ones with the highest average performance levels. Well shock of all shocks, those are the schools that are in the most affluent areas. If you instead present growth data and you explain to people what it represents—it represents how much kids are actually learning in these schools on average—well, first of all, you’re going to see that certainly some of those affluent schools that are highly rated on status are also going to have high growth. But actually a lot of them won’t, and a lot of schools are going to have high growth that you might not think of. It really changes the way people think about school performance away from a system that just says the most affluent schools are the best schools, to a system that actually says the schools that are doing the best job of raising kids’ achievement, those are the best schools.Read More