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The Power of Long Term Thinking: Student Growth in Chicago

In 2012, Chicago’s William P. Gray Elementary School became one of the first schools in the country to adopt Teach to One: Math. In doing so, the Gray math team reoriented every academic and operational aspect of its learning model around its students’ individual needs.

Nearly six years later, Gray’s shift to personalized learning is paying off for students. In 2017, we found that eighth graders in Teach to One made an equivalent of 4.7 years growth in three years on NWEA’s Measure of Academic Performance (MAP).

New Classrooms Gray Elementary School Results 2017-

Below, we see a data snapshot from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) website from 2016, which measures where students from each grade level ended the school year on NWEA’s Measure of Academic Performance assessment in relation to their national peers.

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As you can see, Gray’s eighth grade cohort ranked in the 84th percentile, significantly outperforming previous grade levels.

There’s a reason that students make that much growth,” says Gray Principal Susan Gross. “When you stick with a program, work to improve it, and give it time to develop, it can flourish and grow on its own.”

The Role of the District in Supporting Long Term Thinking

Gray’s success is a microcosm of CPS, where increased student growth has earned it national attention. Last year, an analysis of student data found that when looking at growth over multiple years:

  • CPS students are learning and growing faster than 96% of students in the United States.
  • On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), scores from CPS students improved about 20% faster than those in other large districts or the national average.

2014-2015 Eighth Grade Cohort NAEP Growth

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While there are several factors that go into this level of success, it is important to note that CPS is one of the few districts whose school accountability focuses on results from the NWEA MAP, rather than on standardized state assessments.

Why does this matter?

In many states and districts, student growth measures for school and teacher evaluations are based on a comparison of scores from separate standardized tests taken in separate years. Because these assessments are almost exclusively focused on grade-level skills, they are not as effective at picking up gains on pre- and post-grade skills.

This version of “growth” is essentially comparing how students do against one set of standards to how they did on another set of standards.  Read this for more on the challenges with this approach.

Conversely, the MAP is adaptive. Questions get harder or easier depending on student responses, leading many students to work on a combination of on, above, and below grade skills. As a result, performance on the MAP can be a better reflection of learning gains than state test outcomes, which focus exclusively on grade-level proficiency.

By basing its accountability system on the MAP, Chicago Public Schools has been empowering schools and teachers to focus less on grade level content and more on meeting the unique needs of individual students.

That’s not to say that state assessments don’t matter. They do.

But it’s worth considering: Chicago’s quiet district-level initiative to focus on student growth may be a key driver of long-term success. Gray principal Susan Gross certainly believes so.

“It starts with a long-term commitment from the district to support students’ growth,” she says. “In order to effectively implement change, what is often overlooked is the time needed to root the idea, support its growth, and then do the work to sustain the improvement.”

New Classrooms