Growth vs. Proficiency

Ed4.0 BLOG
May 19, 2018

Growth vs. Proficiency

Which should we measure? Which means success?


Proficiency-based education refers to any system of academic instruction, assessment, grading and reporting that is based on students demonstrating mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn. The general goal of proficiency-based education is to ensure that students acquire the knowledge and skills that are deemed to be essential to success in school, higher education, careers and adult life.

Unfortunately, when students and schools are rated based on the rates of proficiency, only the end result is taken into account even though proficiency rates are correlated with student demographics and prior achievement.

This allows for particular students and schools to be responsible for a minimum increase in results while others are responsible for a vast amount within the same time frame. Proficiency rewards schools for the students they take in, but not necessarily for how those students are taught once enrolled. This can have negative implications, especially in low socioeconomic areas, giving the impression that these students and schools are ineffective. Furthermore, proficiency ratings could potentially cause consequences such as shutting down schools that are working toward closing the academic gaps and are actually benefiting students.


Unlike proficiency objectives which set the same outcomes for all students, growth objectives are personalized for students based on their initial placement assessment results.

Research finds that only 20 percent (or less) of student achievement is explained by differences in schools. The other 80 percent is contributed to by out-of-school factors, such as socioeconomic status, all which have a significant impact on student achievement. From this we can conclude that schools do create an impact, however, they are not the only or even the main cause of student achievement.

This concludes that students will not be on similar ability levels prior to walking into a classroom and even once they are there their baselines will greatly differ. This means that educators must provide differentiated instruction so that all students could potentially meet proficiency targets. Students and schools set in a lower socioeconomic stats area are already set up for failure if their target is to meet the same goals that those from an affluent area are to meet.

So, which is better: proficiency or growth?

This issue needs to be looked at why both measures are important and how they contribute to the ultimate goal of education rather than putting both side against each other. The question here should not be which is better and which should be utilized. The question is how do we make sure all students and schools make growth toward eventually meeting proficiency targets, without being penalized for beginning their education with a disadvantage unlike their counterparts?

With careful intervention and differentiated instruction through adaptive learning solutions (evaluation assessments within real-time), students will make consistent growth based on their ability level toward the goal of proficiency.

“In the debate between a proficiency model and a growth model, the best solution is finding the balance in using both to measure student performance.”