As educators get back into the classroom after the Holiday and New Year break, it’s time to take a look at student learning objectives (SLOs); what they are and how to get started. Ultimately, we want to answer the question, “What adjustments need to be made to move student learning forward and finish the school year with successful outcomes?”
First, let’s get a clear understanding of what SLOs are. The Student Learning Objectives Handbook by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provides a typical example: “a Student Learning Objective can be defined as a rigorous, measurable, long-term academic goal for a group of students that teachers use to guide their instructional efforts over a given interval of time”.
While the definition and process of setting SLOs varies somewhat across the country, and from classroom to classroom, one thing is fairly consistent: developing them can be challenging. As Dr. Andy Hegedus, a senior researcher at NWEA and his team note in a guiding document on the creation of SLOs: “the creation of SLOs requires:
- An understanding of how setting goals can improve educator performance;
- A moderate level of assessment literacy for teachers and administrators;
- A commitment to collaborative discussions between teachers and principals within the SLO setting process; and,
- A similar level of challenge across all the SLOs created, as well as similarity between the difficulty of SLOs and difficulty of achieving the results determined by other means (e.g., value-added ratings generated with state test data).”
Expectations have to be right (not too high, not too low), they have to align to a degree with the standards that are in place for the school and district/state, and they have to be based on understandable data.
- Keep student learning as the priority. Rather than creating goals solely containing measured student growth as the outcome target, use the amount of desired student growth as a starting point for formative and collaborative conversations about what a teacher needs to learn or do differently to achieve that target. From these conversations, establish both outcome and learning goals and focus primarily on the attainment of the learning goal. The administrators should then offer the supports and provide the feedback needed for the teacher to reach their goals. If as much emphasis as possible is placed on the learning goals while still complying with state regulations, teacher performance will improve and students will benefit.
- Ensure teachers and administrators have adequate assessment knowledge. Choosing the appropriate measures and metrics within a context can be somewhat complex. Making sure both teachers and administrators have adequate knowledge about these issues through professional development or other supports is needed to ensure that the choices that are made reinforce the focus on improving student outcomes while maintaining fairness to teachers.
- Treat each classroom situation uniquely, while recognizing the need to have similar expectations for all teachers. Allow for flexibility in the goals that are set based on a variety of contextual variables including the students that the teacher will teach, the teacher’s past results, the results of other similar students and teachers, how long the teacher has been in the classroom, and characteristics of the school itself. At the same time the difficulty of each goal needs to be reasonably consistent across all teachers so that there is a fair and equitable process to determining a teacher’s rating. This allows each teacher to be challenged, to grow, to succeed, and to continue to improve while working in a high stakes context.
With a better understanding of what SLOs are and how to start developing them, our next post will examine what data should be considered to create a balanced set of growth targets.