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Commentary: Does the Growth Model make sense?

Educator Marc Waxman has some questions about the Colorado Growth Model, which is being replicated in several other states.

As the first results of this year’s standardized tests get released I am once again struggling to make sense of how the growth model that is used in Colorado actually works.

A simple metaphor demonstrates my confusion.

There are many distances that people compete at in running. For this example, let’s choose the marathon and the 100 meter dash. Both events involve the exact same activity – running.

Let’s say that for 2011-2012 racing season I was interested in getting very fast at short distance races like the 100 meter dash. And, I know that my year will be judged based on my performance at a single big race at the end of the year. Of course, my training would have two important characteristics – 1) it would involve mostly short, intense running, and 2) it would be geared towards that final big race of the season.

For 2012-2013 it’s the marathon I am focusing on. Same deal – end of season big race will determine how my whole year will be judged. Same training principles except this time I am doing mostly very long runs in preparation.

I finish up my 2012-2013 season, and I look back on the past two years. Results in the big races: Top 10 percent in the dash, but only top 50 percent in the marathon. If I was using the Colorado Growth Model approach I would be pretty disappointed. Then I reflect on how different my training was between the two seasons; my 100 meter dash season had all those sprints, my marathon season had all this long runs.

But, then I think about it for a minute. The dash and the marathon may both be considered running races, but they are actually pretty different; the training was different, the race themselves were very different, I even realized that my body was very different each year. I realize that comparing my performance in 2011-2012 (the dash year) with my 2012-2013 performance (my marathon year) actually doesn’t make sense.

And, that’s why I don’t understand the Colorado Growth Model. The Growth Model only uses data from standardized tests that are standards-based. This means that the tested skills/knowledge from one year to the next are often very different; a 6th grade math test and a 7th grade math test are both testing math (just like the dash and the marathon both are running races), but the standards tested might be very different. What does comparing performance on different standards (different types of races) from one year to the next really tell us?

Extending this concept, let’s consider the idea of long term vs. short term goals. What if I decided that I was really a marathoner, and I had no interest in short races? Certainly I wouldn’t have spent the 2011-2012 season focusing on sprints. Instead I would have focused on building my capacity to do long runs. I might not even race during 2011-2012 because I know that my goal is performance during the 2012-2013 season. And I know that preparing for the marathon is a long term project. Preparing for competition before I am ready, especially preparing for a sprint, would be counterproductive to my long terms goals – it actually detract from my long term goal of a strong marathon performance.

I have been stuck on the concept of the Colorado Growth Model since I first heard of it. I would love to hear feedback about the metaphor in this blog, especially feedback that could convince me that I am misunderstanding the Growth Model. Then, I could just get with the system – a much easier place to be than confronting it.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

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