Thinking Creatively to Evaluate Student Learning During COVID-19: Policymaker Insights on Skip-Year Growth

March 4, 2021

The second webinar in our skip-year growth series with Data Quality Campaign brought together Representatives Ashton Clemmons (NC) and Harold Love Jr. (TN). Dr. Javaid Siddiqi opened the conversation explaining that skip-year growth can provide a valuable measurement for education leaders to better understand where students stand after a challenging year.

Nadja Young, director of SAS’ Education Practice and Civilian Federal Government Affairs, re-introduced skip-year data. With the recent announcement from the federal government that waivers would not be offered for this year’s end-of-the-year assessments, this was a timely conversation. If states do carry out assessments this year, it will be possible to measure growth, even without data from the 2019-2020 academic year.

Re-Examining Assessments and Accountability

“Our state has had a long history of including growth as a measure in our schools.”

-Representative Ashton Clemmons, North Carolina General Assembly

Representative Ashton Clemmons of the North Carolina General Assembly described North Carolina’s commitment to growth and accountability standards. The state began incentivizing accountability in 1997. Four years later, in 2001, it started using biodemographic accountability to better understand data on the individual student level. Many agree on the importance of measuring growth in schools, with some people holding onto the belief that proficiency should be included in this measure of growth.

Representative Harold Love Jr. of the Tennessee General Assembly shared how Tennessee has re-examined how to evaluate teachers and student growth. Through the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top initiative during the Obama Administration, the state improved strategies for measuring student growth as well as student growth itself. Schools saw gains on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores after implementing legislation in response to the Race to the Top program, showing they made the right decisions, said Representative Love.

Representative Love does have concerns when it comes to the opportunity gap between African American and white students. Education policies should be informed in a way that recognizes students with adverse childhood experiences. These children, Representative Love said, should not be penalized for not reaching proficiency requirements. He added that teachers should not be penalized either.

Thinking About Growth: Community and Parent Feedback

“All parents want their children to show little academic loss in the school year.”

-Representative Harold Love Jr., Tennessee General Assembly

Representative Harold Love Jr. described how parents want to make sure students can receive curriculum content and understand it. During the pandemic, success relied on the availability of technology. Although money was set aside for the purchase of laptops in many districts, there was a shortage in supply – every student wasn’t able to receive a laptop when remote learning began.

Parents also faced challenges if they had multiple children with multiple assignments. In essence, these parents became teachers. Representative Love then gave the example of a teacher with children of their own – how would they ensure both their students and their own children were learning? These challenges contributed to a decline in mental health for some. However, there was a lot of hesitancy to bring children back into schools. Many were fearful of COVID-19 and the safety of school buildings.

Representative Ashton Clemmons, a former elementary school teacher, spends some mornings working in a local school as a media specialist. From this experience, she knows that educators care about their students and want to have the most positive impact possible. She said that from her experience, educators think about growth in the pandemic in one of three ways. First, growth can be thought of as relative to where a child started. This may be in terms of where the child was at the beginning of the school year or where the child was when the pandemic began. Second, growth can be measured relative to the expectation for progress by the end of the year. And lastly, growth can be measured by comparing students to other students in their grade, school, district, or state.

Making Decisions Based on Available Data

“We have a great responsibility right now with how we make choices for using data.”

-Representative Ashton Clemmons, North Carolina General Assembly

Nadja Young said that for tests to be modified, states must first talk with their assessment vendors. If fewer questions were put on a test, for example, it would be necessary for vendors to verify that the assessments are still covering all concept areas and thus providing an accurate measure of growth.

Representative Harold Love Jr. knows all to well the challenges that come with altering testing methods. He described a situation that arose when the state was attempting to put a testing module online. Due to issues with broadband and testing, the state was unable to go online and had to test the old-fashioned way – via paper and pencil. After this challenge, the state put together a commission to assess things like broadband accessibility for students. Because many schools in Tennessee are rural, broadband access tends to pose some issues.

Representative Ashton Clemmons reminded policymakers and companies of the great responsibility teachers feel, especially during the pandemic. Teachers do want to know as much as they can about what is working for students. Representative Clemmons recognized that the education system has been stretched thin. Assessments, she said, shouldn’t be given to penalize students, schools, or educators. There are many opportunities for gathering data during this time, and with those opportunities comes great responsibility. As schools continue remote learning and others return to some form of in-person instruction, it may be time to consider changes in assessments and data collection.

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