The Intersection

Homeroom with Education Leaders Webinar Recap: Measuring Student Growth

October 14, 2020

The radical transition caused by upheaval from the COVID-19 pandemic comes at a time when technology has begun to permeate the educational landscape. However, the immediate switch to online learning for millions has revealed the many unaddressed gaps and inequities in access to high-quality instruction.

Policymakers and stakeholders around the country express concern about the impact this transition has on learning loss; additionally, those in the business of developing and implementing student growth measures wonder how to re-think these measures so that they accurately account for this upheaval and ensure that the solutions are equitable. In the first prime time installment of Homeroom with Education Leaders, The Hunt Institute sat down with Darrell Bradford of 50CAN, Katrina Miller of the SAS Institute, Superintendent Carmen Ayala of Illinois, and Commissioner Margie Vandeven of Missouri to discuss how states and localities can develop and implement robust, equitable, and accessible student growth measures to serve students, families, and educators best going forward.


Using Data to Identify Where Students Stand


“We are working with our state partners to understand learning loss and how it has impacted students differently. Many studies are saying we expect a 70 percent learning loss, but we don’t have the data to confirm that yet.”

– Katrina Miller, Education Industry Consultant, The SAS Institute


Opening the discussion was Katrina Miller, who discussed how SAS has been approaching the subject. SAS has been working closely with states on student growth measures for two decades, and now the company is thinking about the kind of data needed to account for the moment, specifically in relation to how students are doing right now and who has access to broadband and technological devices. Though much is unknown, Miller does know that there is a high demand among parents and stakeholders for data relating to student growth measures and how school closures have impacted student learning. Miller is also aware that equity gaps will increase, and that capturing best practices in measuring growth during the pandemic is critical.


“This school year is obviously unlike any other year we’ve seen before. Educators are tasked with cementing last year’s standards, recovering summer slide, and teaching this year’s gains, all in a nine-month period.”

– Carmen Ayala, State Superintendent of Education, Illinois


Speaking from state leadership perspectives were Illinois State Superintendent Carmen Ayala and Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven. Ayala discussed the work being done by state leadership in Illinois to address the needs of the moment, as the Illinois State Board of Education met in August to assemble a group of educators to focus on standards relating to project-based and interdisciplinary forms of learning. Additionally, state leadership in Illinois gave districts recommendations for the 2020-2021 academic year on matters concerning hybrid, in-person, and online learning, depending on the approaches taken by districts in the current academic year. Finally, state leadership in Illinois is encouraging staff to assess students equitably and offer re-takes on assessments and assignments to ensure students can learn and master the material. Assessments provide feedback for teachers in terms of understanding how they can help students; they also increase motivation and growth.

Commissioner Vandeven spoke on the work being done by state leadership in Missouri, noting that 87 percent of districts in the state are offering some form of in-person instruction, though this offering is limited to specific portions of the student population. Missouri is also working to establish an individualized growth model for students upon return; the state is focusing heavily on social-emotional learning and allowing educators to assess students with assessments delivered in the previous grade. Commissioner Vandeven stressed that this decision regarding assessments is not done for the purpose of remediation, but rather giving states and districts a good sense of what students need to keep advancing in their academic journeys. Finally, Commissioner Vandeven noted that the state has not ruled out administering assessments in the spring, stating that while those assessments may look different than those administered in previous years, the state wants to know where students are academically.


“At 50CAN, we look at this an opportunity for kids who learn better when they’re not in a typical classroom. If school isn’t a physical place and learning is everywhere, how do we reward or measure learning that is everywhere?”

– Darrell Bradford, Executive Vice President, 50CAN


Speaking from a national perspective was Darrell Bradford, who noted that once schools closed in the spring, many districts engaged in a “race-to-the-bottom” by closing for good for the remainder of the academic year and with some grading too easily. Bradford also discussed the data regarding assessments and student growth at the moment, noting that while these data are noisy and imperfect, some form of assessment data will be critical in providing us understanding on where students are. Finally, Bradford stressed the need for decisions about grade promotion to be made in consultation with parents, noting that state and district leaders must include as many people as possible in sorting about the implications of learning loss.


Focusing on Developing Robust Growth Models


“A number of schools are attempting to address early childhood through their kindergarten readiness. We all need to be paying close attention to kindergarten enrollment numbers.”

– Margie Vandeven, Commissioner of Education, Missouri


Following opening remarks, the discussion moved over to Q&A. Katrina Miller talked about how states should think about data going forward, laying down a few points for states to use as a guide. For one, states should develop robust growth models, noting that simple gain models, which calculate the difference of the current and previous academic year, do not apply to the current context. Second, states must be innovative in this work; they cannot do what they have always done, as states do not have the data they have always had. Third, states should understand that data is not only good for measuring growth and proficiency, but understanding where students stand and where they could go. Finally, teaching educators to be data literate will be critical as those working closest to students will be able to properly gauge, from a data standpoint, how their students are doing and how instruction can be tailored to better serve student needs.

Superintendent Ayala discussed the role data plays in Illinois’s response to the pandemic. The state, which has 852 locally controlled school districts, is sharing student data with Midwest Labs for research purposes and understanding where students currently stand. Ayala stated that Illinois is also collecting data on English Language Learners (ELLs) as part of a broad effort to understand how to best serve this population of students, being particularly attuned to the linguistic losses that may be incurred during the pandemic.

Commissioner Vandeven commended the work being done by Missouri’s teachers to step up, collaborate, and work tirelessly to conquer the challenges of the current moment. Teachers are leading the charge to learn from one another and understand where students are. Additionally, Vandeven is paying close attention to kindergarten enrollment, noting that if enrollment numbers for kindergarten are down, enrollment numbers in the 2021-2022 academic year could be significant and difficult to accommodate for. Vandeven, overall, is thinking about the early learning gap, noting that taking gap years early on may not suit the state’s youngest learners well.

Darrell Bradford discussed the need to accommodate and reward learning that happens anywhere. Additionally, Bradford asked about the kinds of data-sharing agreements present that can better track the work being done by students at this time. When the discussion switched to formative assessments, Bradford commented on the need to ask how to provide professional development based on data from formative assessments, noting that while this question remains unanswered, having a wealth of formative assessment data could be of use in addressing that question.

Looking Ahead: Using the Power of Data to Conquer Great Challenges


“We must help teachers understand data and give them the tools to look through it. Data needs to be presented in a clear way because teachers have so many other things they are grappling with.”

– Katrina Miller, Education Industry Consultant, The SAS Institute


Many questions remain regarding how to develop robust growth models. The reasons for optimism, however, include the fact that policymakers and stakeholders are not letting the current moment go to waste, as they are working tirelessly to understand how to develop more robust and equitable student growth measures to best serve students, educators, and parents going forward. Fortunately, these efforts could bear fruit and are of significant interest to many, and the effort to develop strong student growth measures is one of many efforts to take the lessons learned from the pandemic and construct an education system that is equitable and gives all students the tools necessary to thrive.

View the full webinar below.

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