Principle 5: Assess progress toward absolute quality standards, but keep progress information separate from current status.


Establish clear benchmarks for adequate movement toward ultimate goals during a given time period, and report progress against these growth standards.

Incremental progress measures illuminate the impacts of past actions, can shape modifications along the way, and can guide the design of new actions.

We enjoin our clients to define meaningful progress toward their goals. As we’ve established, we glean little by knowing whether one student or school made more progress than another or by reporting progress without assessing its value and priority. Principle 5 gives educators the opportunity to tell stakeholders their expectations for change moving forward.


Setting Targets & Timeframes for Change:
Our approach requires that before making judgments about how much change is good enough, we must set targets and timeframes for change. In 2000 the federal government set the ultimate goal for No Child Left Behind: 100% of all sub-groups of students must achieve proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Without reference to its feasibility, this is a clear example of what we mean by setting a target and a timeframe for change.

We counsel educators to look at each of the measures they are using to measure education quality and ask: Where do we want to go on this measure and by when? Specifically, they decide how much change in their metrics is sufficient and set desired dates for reaching these goals.

In our experience, most educators set their ultimate quality target at “Strong” (or a high standard) for the larger elements included in their system of quality measurement. Others set their targets at slightly less than Strong, which allows timeframes to be shortened. Still others will set some targets at Strong and some at Promising to reflect how they’ve prioritized different metrics. The process elicits discussion with and by our clients: Where are we starting? Where do we want to go? How long will it take to get there? Here are examples of specific targets that have been set by some of our clients:

• 85% of students will say their teachers are fully committed to their success.
• 90% of students will score college eligible on the SATs.
• 75% of teachers will say the instructional coaching they receive has important impacts on their teaching.
• Fewer than 10% of students will miss a day or more per week for a single month and fewer than 5% for more than one month.
• 90% of students in the high school for more than two years will graduate within five years.

Judgments about the rigor or laxity of a target must take into account the timeframes for achieving those targets and baseline levels of quality. In some cases states, districts, or schools will have quality targets already in place; in those instances we adapt, incorporating them into progress ratings.

When baseline information is available showing trends in quality to date, these data can often be used to set timeframes going forward. When research exists on interventions and reform strategies similar to those being implemented, those results, too, may be used to estimate timeframes for achieving quality targets. We can also factor in practical matters such as grant funding periods, length of a superintendent’s contract, or pending state actions.

Setting Short-term Targets and Thresholds for Progress:
Once ultimate quality targets and timeframes are set, we help our clients determine how much progress over a shorter time frame will be considered steady progress. We tie the length of the shorter timeframe to the interval between assessments on the relevant quality measures. Using “steady progress” as the standard, we make precise assessments of progress ranging from accelerated progress to marginal and no progress. The math behind these determinations is less important than the logic. Steady progress toward a three-year target, for example, means, “We should move forward about one-third each year. If we make more progress than that, we have achieved accelerated progress. If we make less, we have achieved marginal or even no progress.” Thresholds for progress ratings above and below steady progress are set using research- and value-based judgments similar to other education quality assessments.

Figure 5.1

Figure 5.1 shows how our method for scoring progress works. For students’ reports of the support they receive from their teachers, we’ve set an eight year target of 85% of students. In 2012, 53% of students reported Optimal levels. If in 2013 the percentage grew to 57%, that would define steady growth for this quality measure; i.e., 1/8 of the 32-point gap.

On Combining Quality Status and Progress toward Quality:
When working with our clients and partners, we report progress toward quality standards separately but “side by side” with current status for all quality metrics. Currently it is widespread practice to combine these two critical pieces of quality information into a single quality rating. We do not follow this practice. We believe all consumers of data on education quality, including policy makers, funders, educators and education consumers can and should make their own judgments about the relative importance of how well a student, school, district, or state is doing and how much progress they’ve made toward getting better. Combining progress and status into single quality metric, particularly if the two components are not readily distinguishable, muddles the interpretation of this metric and undermines its utility to guide action.



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