Four Critical Questions to Help You Set Your Student Learning Objectives

Four Critical Questions to Help You Set Your Student Learning ObjectivesWhile the process of setting Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) varies across states, one thing is clear: developing high quality SLOs is no easy task. Among other challenges, districts need to make sure they aren’t setting their expectations too high or too low, and that they are making the attainment of SLOs (for teachers of non-tested grades/subjects) as difficult as the attainment of value added results from state or other test data for other teachers.

A few weeks ago in a blog post by Dr. Andy Hegedus, we shared our top three recommendations for developing SLOs based on research. Since we saw a lot of interest in the topic, we decided to add two more posts to dive deeper into both setting and attaining high quality SLOs. In this post, I’ll share four specific questions you can ask yourself to help set challenging yet appropriate SLOs. And for those readers who are using our Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) interim assessment, I’ll include a few tips to help you think about how you might incorporate MAP data into that process.

1. How will context play a role in our SLOs?

At the district and school level, leaders will want to communicate which types of context will be important for all teachers to consider. Educators may then want to think about these three types of context for their own class:

  • Historical: What has performance looked like for students I have taught in the past? What has past performance looked like for the particular group of students I’m teaching this year? We are much more likely to be able to set accurate targets for a specific group if we know how much growth these students have shown in prior years, as well as how much student growth a particular teacher has realized in the past.
  • Comparison Groups: How have similar groups performed? How much student growth have similar teachers seen? Considering the performance of similar students within your own district (e.g. by looking at peer groups) and outside of it (e.g. by using normative data) is useful when setting attainable goals for both individual students and classroom groups.
  • Classroom/ School: What challenges are present in the classroom or school that may impact the amount of improvement shown? Taking qualitative factors into account can help keep targets meaningful yet realistic.

2. How will we empower teachers in setting SLOs?

At the school and district level, there are several ways leaders can empower teachers in setting SLOs.

  • First of all, determine where your staff is with respect to assessment literacy. Establish a common understanding of assessments, assessment purpose, and growth. Consider sharing resources where staff can learn more on their own time (e.g., or plan professional learning to build shared understanding.
  • In your district SLO guidelines, clarify how teachers can exercise their professional judgment to tailor SLOs to their students, and share examples of excellent SLOs for different grade levels and subjects (without any identifying teacher or student information).
  • Be explicit about how SLOs relate to any pre-existing goal setting work. If teachers have already been using SMART goals or other processes for student goal setting, it will be helpful for them to know how their prior work can tie into SLO efforts.
  • Communicate what resources are available to support teachers in working toward achieving the SLOs throughout the year (e.g. professional learning communities, professional development, mentoring, data teams).
  • Clarify upfront what will happen if a target is not met (e.g. what type of collaborative dialogue process is in place to understand the most influential causes of not meeting a target; what support systems are in place for teachers, including periodic or mid-year check-ins).

3. How will we incorporate teacher learning goals in our SLO process?

Although teacher learning goals are not typically a required element of an SLO, research shows that when teachers set and focus on achieving an appropriate personal learning goal, their performance improves (Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2013). New developments in goal setting and task performance. New York, NY: Routledge.) If their performance improves, there is an increased likelihood of achieving the SLO.

4. Which data will we use to set challenging yet attainable targets as part of our SLOs?

The type of evidence or data you choose to use as you develop targets for your SLOs will depend on grade and subject taught, local context and state and district guidelines.

For districts using MAP, here are a few metrics that may support your work.

Percent of students who meet or exceed their projected RIT Conditional Growth Index (CGI) Conditional Growth Percentile (CGP)

You may also want to check out these three additional MAP resources:

  • Use the 2015 MAP Normative Data as a reference of the latest student level achievement and growth norms.
  • See the College Readiness Linking Study to explore the link between RIT scores and ACT college readiness benchmarks.
  • Download the Student Goal Setting Worksheet template to make it easier to work with students on setting and tracking measurable targets using MAP data. If you’re using web-based MAP: Log in at Click on ‘Reports’ and you’ll see the Student Goal Setting Worksheet option. If you’re using client server MAP: Log in at Click on ‘Dynamic Reports,’ then ‘Projected Performance,’ then on any student name, then run their Student Goal Setting Worksheet.

If MAP is part of your SLO process and you’d like some consultation in choosing the right metrics and setting appropriate targets given your local context, onsite professional learning options are also available to support your staff in making these important decisions. Onsite data coaching is completely customizable and a great option for helping you get more strategic with your SLOs and your growth data. To learn more about how we can support you, simply have your MAP Coordinator reach out to your Account Manager.

And stay tuned – in the next blog post on this topic, we’ll dive deeper into recommendations for not just setting but achieving your SLOs!

Let us know your thoughts via Facebook or Twitter @NWEA.


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