CDE prepares stakeholders for long-awaited growth model release

The California Department of Education on Sept. 22 will release the initial set of historical student growth data on student achievement for English language arts and math on its Growth Model webpage, officials announced in a Sept. 13 webinar.

The “residual gain” model calculates differences between students’ predicted test scores and actual test scores, using previous English language arts and math scores, as well as the scores of all other students in the same grade. Unlike the current reporting of student performance in ELA and math, which capture achievement at a single moment in time based on grade-level standards, growth models are designed to measure how much students have learned over time.

Growth scores will be based on the 2016–17, 2017–18 and 2018–19 Smarter Balanced Summative Assessment results, as the state has no data from 2019–20, and the 2020–21 data was shaped by extreme variations in educational access during the pandemic.

On Sept. 9, the State Board of Education approved the continued use of adjusted blueprints for the Smarter Balanced assessments for the 2021–22 administration. The shortened blueprints are identical to those used in the 2020–21 academic year. Asked what effect, if any, the use of these adjusted assessment blueprints will have on the growth model, CDE Analysis, Measurement & Accountability Reporting Division Director Cindy Kazanis said the CDE is working to ensure there is as little impact as possible to the growth model.

“The State Board of Education’s action last week adopted the shortened blueprint for this year with plans to continue to look at this for future years,” Kazanis said. “As we develop out future years’ tests, we are working together in the accountability division and the assessments division to ensure that we have no impact to the growth model so we can produce, for the first time, a growth model with new data in 2024.”

According to Kazanis, the 2024 data release will incorporate assessment scores from 2021–22 through 2023–24.

In addition to releasing the data next week, the CDE will also provide a toolkit on Sept. 20 to help local educational agencies and the general public understand growth scores and their appropriate uses, and how school and district leaders can effectively communicate about the model with stakeholders. The toolkit will include frequently asked questions, key messages and information about appropriate uses of growth scores.

 The long road to adoption

The U.S. Department of Education pressed California to adopt a growth model when it approved the state’s plan for complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act. According to the Data Quality Campaign, California and Kansas were the only states by 2020 that didn’t have such an indicator.

After five years of engaging with stakeholders and exploring several different growth models, the CDE adopted the residual gains methodology approved by the State Board of Education in May. The State Board hired the test contractor Educational Testing Services to make technical adjustments in order to ensure the residual growth model would prove reliable and stable from year to year. The details of those technical adjustments can be found here.

The new growth model will only be applied to English language arts and math test scores in grades four through eight, as prior year data will not be available for third-graders when they take their first Smarter Balanced exams, nor for students in grade 11, as they don’t take Smarter Balanced tests during their first two years of high school. At this time, the growth model will be used for informational purposes and will not be used as part of the state’s accountability system.

Any questions related to the Student Growth Model can be sent to