Three Recommendations in Developing Student Learning Objectives

Three Recommendations in Developing Student Learning ObjectivesWith the increased emphasis now placed on the use of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) in the evaluation of teacher performance, a question educators, administrators and policy makers are asking is: Should we expect a meaningful change in teacher performance, and therefore, improved rates of student learning simply because teachers set goals?

The 45 years of research on this point is clear—teacher goal setting can measurably improve teacher performance and outcomes for students (Locke, 2013 – New developments in goal setting and task performance. New York, NY: Routledge). However, the research is also clear that simply having goals will not result in a meaningful change in a teacher’s performance. If implemented poorly, goal setting will not provide the benefits that research has shown are possible.

Not only do the definitions of SLOs vary across the country, but the requirements for the content of SLOs vary as well, with some more aligned than others with the body of research on how goal setting can improve performance. Based on our review of existing research, NWEA has three broad recommendations to consider in the development of SLOs:

  1. 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 student outcome and teacher learning goals and focus primarily on the attainment of the teacher 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 those teacher learning goals while still complying with state regulations, teacher performance will improve and students will benefit.
  1. Ensure teachers and administrators have adequate assessment knowledge. Choosing the appropriate measures and metrics within a particular context can be complex. Making sure both teachers and administrators have adequate knowledge about these issues through teacher 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.
  1. 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.

By implementing this guidance, the SLOs created and used as a portion of a teacher’s evaluation will be fairer to teachers, will yield overall improvement in teacher performance, and will ultimately have a greater likelihood of improving the rate of learning for the teachers’ students.

For more information on the research, policies, and practices necessary for appropriate development and implementation of SLOs, download the complete document: NWEA Guidance on the Creation of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs).

We’d love to have you share your thoughts on our Facebook page, or send us a message via Twitter (@NWEA).


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