Many years ago, I first heard the term “semantic infiltration.” It was used to refer to the way that words, when used often enough, can become reality, even when we don’t agree with the “reality.” LauraChapman describes the way that technocratic language has corrupted education by inserting its language into the ways we think about children and learning.

She writes:

An economic concept of growth as a “measurable gain” has migrated into federal policies for education. The policy impulse is to simplify the multifaceted character of education and treat the enterprise of teaching and learning as a business in need of proper management to get results. The desired results are defined by forms of learning that can be measured and with a calculation of the rate of learning within a year and year-to-year, comparable to knowing whether profits are increasing—on a trajectory of growth or not.

This economic concept of growth as a “rate of increase” now overrides the educational meanings of human growth and learning—as a multifaceted, dynamic, and interactive process with daily surprises and influences from many sources.

Federal policies treat the economic meaning of growth as a virtue and as an imperative for accountability. This “accountability imperative” is evident in key definitions within RttT regulations and other grant programs. Federal Register. (2009, November 18). Rules and regulations Department of Education: Final Definitions. 74 (221-34), 559751-52.

“Student achievement means (a) For tested grades and subjects: (1) A student’s score on the State’s assessments under the ESEA; and, as appropriate, (2) other measures of student learning, such as those described in paragraph (b) of this definition, provided they are rigorous and comparable across classrooms. (b) For non-tested grades and subjects: Alternative measures of student learning and performance such as student scores on pre-tests and end-of-course tests; student performance on English language proficiency assessments; and other measures of student achievement that are rigorous and comparable across classrooms.”

“Student growth means the change in student achievement for an individual student between two or more points in time.”

“Rigorous” means “statistically rigorous.” Federal Register. (2009, July, 29). Notices 74(144), 37803-37. Retrieved from the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [] [DOCID:fr29jy09-148]

The federal definition of an “effective” teacher requires attention to the rates at which student’s scores increase.

“Effective teacher means a teacher whose students achieve acceptable rates (e.g., at least one grade level in an academic year) of student growth (as defined in this notice).

“Highly effective teacher means a teacher whose students achieve high rates (e.g., one and one-half grade levels in an academic year) of student growth (as defined in this notice.”

If should be obvious that calculations to determine “rates” of growth depend on a data system that matches the test scores of individual students and the “teacher of record” for a given student and test. Gates and USDE have poured millions into getting data systems linked and free of crud that will compromise the metrics for accounting.

These integrity of data in these records serve as “baselines” for estimates of the “value-added” by a teacher to the scores of their students and various sub-groups. VAM produce these estimates. SLOs (student learning objectives) are a proxy for VAM until statewide tests for nontested subjects are developed.

Federal definitions mandate “comparable” ratings of teachers regardless of the grade or subject. Learning a foreign language, or math, or learning in dance must be made to look comparable. The bean counters, and bookeepers, and accountants, and statisticians can’t deal with qualitative differences.

Federal policy makers have sought to “normalize” the idea that economic growth is the same as “student growth’ and just an extension of the longstanding metaphor of teaching as nurture, cultivation, gardening (kindergarten)—a child’s garden.

Today, almost every teacher who uses the phrase “student growth” in connection with evaluation has been infected with the federal definition.

Some value-added experts love this easy conflating of the meanings of growth because it makes the convoluted metrics for VAM and SLOs easier to sell… And the silly oak tree analogy one means of doing so. See.