This Washington Post article—One of the World Cup’s Best Goals Was Even Crazier Than You Thought— fascinated me. I was struck by the Opta Sports data about the probability of soccer kicks converting to successful goals. Authors Seth Blanchard and Rueben Fisher-Baum talked about “expected goals”; this term is about measuring the likelihood that a shot in soccer will result in a goal. (Ten factors are taken into consideration, including distance from the goal and from the center line.) Then I was really struck by the similarity of setting goals for (and with) students.
A couple of colleagues at NWEA, Drs. Beth Tarasawa and Nate Jensen, reminded me several years ago that we need to consider four contexts when setting goals for and with students:
- Similar student
One challenge we face in goals setting is making sure the goals are challenging, attainable, and realistic. Historical context gets us started by looking at prior performance to learn how our students (a particular group) have grown previously and to what level. We’re looking for patterns and trends to help identify what would be both challenging and attainable.
The second context might be to look at how much growth a group of similar students has made—past or present growth. If we pause to consider the classroom or school context, we want to know if our students have certain characteristics that might influence how much growth they’ve shown. In looking at the specific strengths and challenges of our unique set of students, it is possible that each group (classroom or school) will show different amounts of growth and achievement over the course of the year. The idea of a goal context relates to the fact that sometimes we set safe goals (easily met) when we need to push our students (and ourselves) to feel safe and yet challenged—stretched. If you consider the final three contexts, they tend to fall back to the first one—historical.
Historical context is the one I think gets missed often in goal-setting conversations. It takes time (I prefer three years) to collect historical data to look at trends. Then, to make sure we are talking about “similar students,” it takes time to collect cohort or quasi-cohort data. In my last school district, we tracked achievement of a class from K through grade 10. We could easily identify this cohort from the quasi-cohort in data and look for patterns and trends with a historical perspective. These ideas are at a large level, but what about for the classroom teacher? Where and how can you collect historical data to find the trends in your students’ achievement?
Some districts use data management systems and have dashboards that facilitate this process. Others use spreadsheets. Regardless of what you use, my thinking is that the pause to look back three years to see how a small group of students, or even individual students, has been growing might allow you to set goals that are both challenging and realistic, which means attainment just might occur.
The idea of “expected goals” in soccer doesn’t consider a couple of aspects, like individual players and defender positions. From the article:
While it sounds obvious, expected goals only knows about shots. Beautiful passes, runs and touches can generate opportunities that do not quite produce a good attempt, but are nonetheless evidence a team is playing well.
The opposite is true too: If a team misses an easy shot, the failure will be reflected in its expected vs. actual goals. But if they blow what should have been an easy scoring opportunity thanks to a bad pass, expected goals never know[s] about it.
What are the possible “defense positions” to consider in looking at the idea of “expected goals” in education? What extenuating circumstances might have been present for a group of students one year? Which “individual players” (besides each student) would you consider in the equation of successful growth (teachers with a trend of helping students achieve)? Think about the data schools and districts share (and get judged on). Where does growth fit into the equation?
As you pore over the data files this summer from various assessments, consider different contexts you may want to investigate in setting goals for the new school year. If it’s helpful, refer to this worksheet to help you think through key questions for successful student goal setting and planning.