What is “good” academic growth?

We often get questions about whether a student’s growth is “good” or not. Unfortunately, it’s a question we at NWEA just can’t answer. Only you can.

I don’t want you to think we are avoiding some responsibility. The problem with this question is that what is “good” or “bad” is purely a value judgment. It’s an indication of the expectations your organization has for itself. What is appropriate for us to do, and we do it better all the time, is to provide some context around the data to support you coming to your own answer.

One of the most important contexts we provide is national normative data. We look back and gather information on already demonstrated student achievement and growth. From history, we create a variety of descriptive information about what students actually did. We provide percentiles for their achievement. We describe what typical growth was for a student at a given starting RIT score in a subject in a grade. Since we see wide variations in the student achievement and growth, we provide the average achievement levels for various grades along with measures of how they are distributed. All this provides a context for your students by comparing them to students across the county.

Our recent study on college readiness provides another context by determining how RIT scores relate to benchmarks set by ACT Inc. on a number of their assessments. Depending on the grade, subject, and ACT assessment, the NWEA percentiles that correspond to meeting various ACT benchmarks vary from the 43rd to the 83rd percentile (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 – NWEA percentiles vs. ACT college readiness benchmarks

Figure 1 – NWEA percentiles vs. ACT college readiness benchmarks

Knowing how important proficiency is to NCLB and, therefore, you, we provide projected performance on state assessments through our state alignment studies (see the Figure below for a comparison of proficiency cut scores across various states).

Andy Blog jan 29 graph 2_0


One trick to understanding all of this is to remember that the RIT scale never changes. Normative data does. When we look back a few years from now and calculate new normative information it will reflect what our education system and students did over the past few years. As we continue to improve, whether as a result of the changes in instruction necessitated by the Common Core or just because we are getting better at our craft all the time, there will be some changes. I believe that over time a RIT score that today corresponds to college readiness and is at the 77th percentile will eventually become merely average. When that happens, what will you think is “good”?


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