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Measuring Student Learning with Student Growth Percentiles & Student Growth Targets

Written by
June 27th, 2017

When it comes to measuring teacher effectiveness, educators often wonder how students are performing in relation to their peers. How do they know which students are achieving higher relative to their academic peers? How do they determine if certain students are progressing at a higher rate relative to other students?  

In today’s classroom, it’s common practice for educators to assess student learning by administering a series of assessments throughout any given year. This information is used to inform educators how well a student has grown academically relative to subject matter or skills from one point in time to another. However, this information doesn’t inform educators how much students have grown academically in relation to other students. In fact, it becomes very complex to know if a student’s growth is actually a huge leap forward or rather minimal.

Educators have started to transition to the use of student growth percentiles (SGPs) and student growth targets (SGTs) to address this problem. A student growth percentile is a score that indicates the growth or progress a student has made compared to their peer group on a given set of measures. For example, if a student has a SGP at the 75th percentile, this indicates that that the performance of the student exceeded the growth or change of 74% of all students in the sample. This level of growth would also suggest that the student is growing at a high level compared to other students.

What are Student Growth Percentiles (SGP)?

SGPs are aggregated and normed relative to all students, with a statistic model developed to approximate how much a student should grow. SGP is based on different subgroups of students with different abilities and across different grade spans over time.

SGPs are important because they support an educator’s understanding of student progress. For example, one student may be performing at grade level, but making little progress relative to their peers. Conversely, a student may be demonstrating low levels of grade-level standards, but making incredible strides relative to others. From a teaching and learning perspective, a SGP can inform educators whether learning is higher or lower compared to others.  

What questions can a SGP answer?

Depending on the audience, stakeholders will have different types of questions when understanding student growth.

For site or district administrators, SGP may answer questions like the following (provided by the Hawaii Department of Education):

  • How is the overall district and school growth relative to students in the district and throughout the state?
  • Is there sufficient student growth made towards meeting state standards?
  • Are district and site efforts leading to positive student growth and outcomes?
  • What student subgroups are making greater gains than others?

For teachers, student growth will help answer questions like:  

  • What students met (or are on track to meeting) their expected growth?  
  • What students are growing at a higher or lower rate academically relative to other students in the classroom/school?
  • How are students growing compared across different content areas (e.g., Math and English)?
  • What intervention efforts are working?

What are Student Growth Targets (SGT)?

SGT measures the change in a student’s assessment performance from one year to the next, but it’s based on the distance from a reaching proficiency in any given content area. Most times, the SGT includes time frames that students may meet to reach the desired level of student performance. SGT should inform educators, students, and families regarding the level of growth needed on a yearly basis to reach important proficiency milestones.

To understand the growth students are required to obtain per year to reach proficiency, districts and states have started to develop guidelines to calculate rate of improvement. In its most simple form, students are to subtract their current year’s scaled score from the scale score they need to reach proficiency and divide the number by the remaining grade.   

SGP and SGT recognize that a teacher’s impact on student learning is important and require schools and districts to be intentional about all students reaching proficiency. The need to deepen the use of a comprehensive assessment system to identify gaps in student learning becomes paramount. Similarly, schools and districts should not only focus on the academic component to teaching and learning. There’s a need to continue providing holistic supports and wrap-around services to address any social-emotional learning (SEL) to ensure all students reach their highest potential.  

Student growth targets should develop a sense of urgency for educators and students alike. School systems should continue to be proactive by reacting early, spending time to assess and remediate important skills when students enter school, especially for students that have been traditionally underserved. Furthermore, schools should continue to have a comprehensive way of identifying struggling students, intervening and catching them up to their SGT.

In order to complete this important task, it’s vital to teach essential skills and content in reading and writing (The RTI Network, 2015). Educators should continue to provide differentiated instruction based on assessment results and adapt instruction to meet students’ needs. This process reinforces that every student has an independent path towards success.

By the same token, time should be allowed for students to practice while giving them as much feedback as possible. The feedback should be explicit and express what students should learn. By employing all these methods, educators will be enabling as many opportunities as possible to ensure students reach mastery (RTI Action Network, 2015).

Need For a Comprehensive Data System

In order to gauge student growth, educators must effectively use and administer high quality assessments. Without a central location to store all of this information, however, the task becomes more difficult. The solution is a longitudinal data system that can track students as they move grade to grade and/or from school to school.

Today’s data systems are designed to collect and store grade-level data, but not student-level data. These systems lack student identifiable data, which limits an educator’s options in determining what percentage of students have reached a certain threshold of mastery. Similarly, data systems are limited and don’t allow educators to follow students longitudinally, which is a key ingredient in analyzing student growth.  

Therefore, a key component in a high-quality data system for supporting growth models is a unique student identifier (or student ID). A student’s assessments and demographic information is included with their student ID in the data system (Blank and Cavell 2005). This will enable educators to drill down by subgroup, data which can help to close the achievement gap and ensure all students graduate college-and-career ready.  

Final Thoughts

When analyzing any meaningful student data, it’s necessary to incorporate SGP and SGT as quantitative measures that can give insight around educating the “whole child.” Educators should also investigate qualitative measures to understand effective practices or shifts that are necessary to reach all students to ensure they reach their highest potential.

Through their SGP and SGT analysis, educators should begin the appropriate dialogue to evaluate all facets of the educational system including leadership, parent and community ties, teaching and learning, student engagement, social-emotional learning (SEL), and culture and climate. Educational leaders need to be proactive by building collaborative structures to converse about SGP and SGT, thereby paving the path for students to be prepared for the future.


Arizona State Board of Education. Arizona A-F School Accountability: Working Draft of Components. (February 2017).

Cavell, Lori, et al. Key state education policies on PK-12 education: 2004. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers (2005).

Chester, M. D. MCAS Student Growth Percentiles: Interpretive Guide. Malden, MA: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. March 2011.

Choi, Kilchan, Pete Goldschmidt, and Kyo Yamashiro. “Exploring models of school performance: From theory to practice.” Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education 104.2 (2005): 119-146.

Denton, C. A. Classroom Reading Instruction That Supports Struggling Readers: Key Components for Effective Teaching. RTI Action Network.

Hawaii State Department of Education. The Hawaii Growth Model: An Explanation of Student Growth Percentiles (SGP). Hawaii: March 2012.

Korkmaz, A., et al. Tracking Indicators of Graduation and Postsecondary Readiness. Boston, MA: Harvard University, Strategic Data Project (2013).


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  1. Kelly on August 31, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    In the second paragraph under “What are Student Growth Targets (SGT)?”, you discuss how to calculate rate of improvement. What do you mean by “… divide the number by the remaining grade.”? What is meant by the remaining grade?
    Thank you

    • Dr. Abram Jimenez on September 11, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      Hi Kelly, thanks for the comment.

      To set student growth targets, states expect students to reach proficiency in a given time frame. For students not reaching proficiency, they are expected to increase by a percentile per year until they reach proficiency in a given time frame years later.

      In Arizona, students are assigned a target scale score that would be needed to reach proficiency within 3 years or eighth grade, whichever comes first. In North Carolina, students that are not reaching proficiency are expected to reach proficiency in four years at an average of 25% increase per year.

      I hope that is helpful, let me know if you have additional questions.

  2. Rebecca on February 8, 2018 at 8:51 am

    I have always wondered how can you measure growth from a previous grade. For example, if a student is in the 6th grade and he takes a 7th grade test the next year, how can you say he has grown if there are new standards/objectives that the student has to learn?

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