Does proficiency mean competency?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Just because students took a state test and scored proficient doesn’t mean they’re competent at what they were being tested on. As a leader making decisions with state data, it’s important to know what it takes behind-the-scenes to be considered proficient on whichever state assessment you use.

Let’s say you are in a school where 83% of your 5th grade students were proficient on the state’s math test. (Even the achievement gap has closed.)

And you and your team are feeling so. Darn. Good!

And thrilled that 5th grade math does not have to be a focus of your improvement plan the next time around.

But what if those students only had to correctly answer about 33% of the available test questions to earn proficiency? Would that be a win for you and your students? Would that be a demonstration of competency?

Probably not.

Some states have low bars for proficiency. What this does in school improvement world is it sets a false sense of accomplishment if staff members don’t really know what is behind the scores. If staff members don’t realize the proficiency bar is low, they are going to move on to other things, while students still need help and support. Proficiency does not mean competency, but if a school scores 85% proficient, staff may assume that all is well and good – and students are competent when they are not.

As leaders, it’s important to know what’s behind your scores. Know what’s in your dough. Your state assessments are going to be tests of accountability, but they may not be tests that really support school improvement. But then again, you may be in a state where the test supports both. Either way, just know what’s going on so you can steer your improvement teams in the right direction.

If the state bar is set low, here are a couple of things you can do:

  1. Make sure staff members are aware of how test scores are computed by your state department of education.
  2. If the percentage of students proficient is high, but the bar to make proficiency is low, keep the content area in the school improvement plan. Continue to monitor your state data because it is used for accountability purposes. The accountability for your school.
  3. Consider using a high proficiency score as an Evidence of Need in the data portion of your school improvement plan or Comprehensive Needs Assessment. You may want to make a note that the reason it is an Evidence of Need even though you have a good percentage of students proficient, is because of the low bar it takes to achieve proficiency.
  4. Remember to include, also in the Evidence of Need, any subgroups for which you are accountable in your school.
  5. If you use our SmartData reports, make sure to use the Curriculum Alignment reports that set the bar much higher and gives you a different look at performance in your school.

As the leader of a school or district, you can make a difference by encouraging your school teams to hold their own bars high, no matter the bar set by the state. And don’t forget to continue to use more than one piece of evidence to know how your students are truly performing.

Please email me at wahlstromd@successlineinc.com if I can answer questions about your state’s assessment; I’d be happy to do so!

On another quick note, it’s a short work week and many of you will have extended time to be with families. It’s Thanksgiving week, and I so hope each of you enjoys the special time you’ll help create with your own family and friends. So many of you reach out to others during the school year – with a helping hand, a supportive attitude, an empathetic ear. While you don’t need a holiday to remind you to give thanks and do good things for others, Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy and reflect on those things for which we are grateful: our America, your faith, and our blessings. May you each take the time to recognize the things that bring joy to your life and heart – and enjoy those things immensely during your short time off.

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