Why education researchers want to focus on academic growth, instead of just achievement

In a new report, education researchers are highlighting schools that have seen an impressive rate of academic improvement, despite having a high concentration of students from low-income backgrounds.

The report lists schools that are “beating the odds” by showing high growth in math and English skills, according to St. Louis University’s Policy Research in Missouri Education Center.

This is part of a broader push to focus on student progress, which the researchers say is an important measure of how effective a school is. The schools on the list are often overlooked when considering more traditional achievement marks, said Evan Rhinesmith, executive director of the PRiME center.

“Growth is such an important metric that I don’t think we talk about enough here in Missouri with our schools,” Rhinesmith said.

Growth can eventually lead to higher achievement scores, Rhinesmith said, but focusing on achievement levels can be problematic because studies have shown they are highly correlated to a student’s socioeconomic background.

“We see pretty clearly in Missouri, the higher the percentage of students in poverty, as measured by free and reduced-price lunch eligibility, the less likely they are to achieve proficient or advanced on the state’s MAP test,” Rhinesmith said. “The growth metric does a much better job of taking a much more holistic view of just how the student has done on this test year over year and how much have they learned.”

Barbara C. Jordan Elementary School in the University City School District is one of the schools that was highlighted on the list, earning a PRiME growth score of 93 in English language arts. Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley said the school and the district focus on instilling confidence and a love for school in students.

“I do think that our district efforts and also the school’s efforts centered around really having a heightened focus on student relationships, bridging the gap between the school and home and then implementing high-quality curriculum,” said Sharonica Hardin-Bartley. “I would argue that is not an achievement gap, it’s more about opportunity gaps.”

Ranking and sorting schools based on the one-point-in-time metrics doesn’t give a clear picture of a child’s academic progression, Hardin-Bartley said.

“We know that children of color perform at a significant lower rate than their peers,” she said. “I think it allows us to look at amazing students through a deficit lens, and I don’t think that is a fair representation of the significant work that students are doing under some pretty dire circumstances, or the work that the adults and teachers are doing.”

In the St. Louis region, the report also highlighted the following schools:

St. Louis Public Schools:

Froebel Elementary, Mallinckrodt Elementary, Oak Hill Elementary, Buder Elementary and Long Middle Community Education Center


Victory, Triumph and Inspire Academies

Hazelwood school district:

Larimore Elementary and Central Middle

Ferguson-Florissant school district:

Lee Hamilton Elementary and Central Elementary

Confluence Academies:

South City

Jennings school district:

Jennings Junior High

Riverview Gardens:

Westview Middle