Skip to Content

Expanding the Growth Model Testing Pilot Program

Aaron Goldstein
American University
Date Published: 
Thu, 2010-02-11







            To increase individual academic growth, the United States Department of Education should expand the growth model pilot program, permitting all fifty states to use this innovative and proficient testing system.

Growth model testing is a unique form of computer testing that uses non-standardized tests to produce individual results. These tests are given semi-annually or annually to monitor the progress of students throughout their elementary education. To be permitted to use growth model testing, states must go through numerous steps established by the Department of Education to ensure that the growth model tests are an effective tool for monitoring student performance. These additional measures help improve the validity and efficiency of the test, and will help promote closing the achievement gap for all students (United States 3). U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that “we want to close the data gap that now handcuffs districts from tracking growth in student learning and improving classroom instruction” (Duncan).  The U.S. Department of Education has been concentrating federal efforts to increase the amount of data available to school districts; this will allow for growth models to monitor student's growth and take steps towards achieving proficiency in all areas of academics. This availability of data encourages the development and analysis of individual student’s progress through their growth model assessments.

The pilot program was established in 2005 with the belief that states should be permitted to use growth models to determine the school’s ability to achieve adequate yearly progress instead of standardized testing. There are currently fifteen states that use a growth model test for their statewide testing as compliant with the testing standards of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Department of Education established seven principles that an effective growth model must have. These principles ensure that the achievement gap is closed for all ethnicities. They include annual achievement must be judged based upon grade levels; schools must be accountable for achievement in reading and math; an increased ability to track student progress annually; and the capability to monitor student participation and student achievement as guidelines to an accountable system (Spelling).

Key Facts

  • The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 allocated $300 million for building data systems to increase the accountability of growth model systems (Duncan).
  • Only 15 states currently use growth model testing to administer student’s individual progress (Spelling).


In March 2008, Colorado had its growth model pilot program approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the Colorado State Board of Education. The primary goal of Colorado’s system is that each individual student is compared to their peers in relation to the development of their academic proficiency. The Colorado Department of Education recently released their data from the 2008-2009 growth model tests which demonstrated that there was steady growth among grade levels in various areas including “34% of students who scored below proficiency last year in reading were growing fast enough to catch up to proficiency in the current academic year” (Stevens 3). States that have been compiling data over several years through their growth model systems have proven that growth models can be effective in monitoring individual student’s growth. A common concern with growth models is that there is a lack of definition in what sufficient growth entails. This issue could be easily resolved through common core state standards that have been developed by a consortium of 48 states including governors and chief state school officers. Growth models promote academic progress by providing individual and class scores instantaneously. The typical standardized test meanwhile has a prolonged delay before results are known. Teachers and school administrators are therefore given the tools needed to immediately change the structure of the class in order to address the specific academic areas that are in need of greatest attention.

Talking Points

  • School districts are able to supervise individual student’s growth annually under a growth model system. 
  • Growth models encourage the increased development of students and improve the levels of academic growth among each student by providing classroom teacher’s with the information they need to differentiate instruction.

Next Steps

In order for the growth model testing pilot program to expand to more states, there must be a structure established by Congress that would provide financial incentives to states to utilize the growth model system. The system should be set up so states are encouraged to use growth models as an alternative to standardized testing. States should be held accountable under this system for 5-7 years as they analyze individual’s proficiency rates under the new system compared to the standardized system. The Obama administration is supportive of alternative and innovative ways to improve student’s proficiency as evidenced by the Race to the Top and Investment in Innovation (I3) program among other new education programs.

President Obama has proposed a dramatic need for our nation to increase the rate of college graduates as a necessity to compete in the global economy. President Obama said that "we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world" (Greene). The I3 fund has great potential for funding a large variety of innovative and unique projects. I3 should be extended and promoted through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in order to promote innovation in education including the use of unique and personalized testing methods like growth models. 


Duncan, Arne. "The Race to the Top Begins." U.S. Department of Education Home Page. U.S. Department of Education, 24 July 2009. Web. 23 Dec. 2009. <>.

Greene, Robert. "Obama Urges U.S. to Regain World Lead in College Graduates." Bloomberg. February 26, 2009. Web. 5 July 2010. <>.

Spelling, Margaret. "Secretary Spelling Approves Additional Growth Model Pilots for 2008-2009 School Year." U.S. Department of Education, 8 Jan. 2009. Web. 22 Dec. 2009. <>.

Stevens, Mark. "New School Accountability Process Builds on Colorado Growth Model; 2008-2009 Results Reveal How Many Students Are On Track For Proficiency." Colorado Department of Education Press Release. Colorado Department of Education, 7 Aug. 2009. Web. 28 Dec. 2009. <>.

United States. U.S. Department of Education. GROWTH MODEL PROPOSAL PEER RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE NCLB GROWTH MODEL PILOT APPLICATIONS. U.S. Department of Education, 23 Sept. 2008. Web. 23 Dec. 2009. <>.


Tags : Education