3 school goal-setting opportunities to seize—and 3 pitfalls to avoid

3 school goal-setting opportunities to seize—and 3 pitfalls to avoidThis summer, many school leaders may be wondering how to complete one of the normal summer tasks: school goal setting. Typically, goals are based on spring summative data. Due to COVID-19 school closures, however, many students did not test this spring. To make matters even more complicated, schools will also need to account for students’ interrupted learning in the fall.

Without spring data and following extended school closures, you may be unclear on how best to set goals for next school year. So, where do we go from here? In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

The following strategies can help you take this year’s goal setting from perilous to pioneering. They can help you rethink your goal-setting process as a whole and make lasting changes that will serve your school, teachers, and students well in the fall and far beyond. I encourage you to focus on the possibilities of improved school goal setting while avoiding the pitfalls. Here’s how.

Possibilities to pursue

  1. Use fall as a baseline. Using evidence for school decisions is more important than ever. While the extended school closures from COVID-19 are a first, summer learning loss has always been a concern. In previous years, many schools set goals based on spring data without taking potential summer learning loss into account. Fall 2020 is an opportunity to set a new practice for getting a baseline. School leaders should assess early using MAP® Growth™ and other assessments to make the best informed decisions.  
  2. Triangulate data. In the past, spring summative data has made it easy for schools to set goals overly reliant on only one set of data, such as state exam scores. Fall 2020 offers a chance to establish goal setting based on a more diversified set of data. Consider examining multiple measures when setting school goals this year. Revisit “Here’s how to source and manage student data” for guidance on the key steps of data triangulation.
  3. Focus on proficiency and growth. A prior emphasis on spring summative data has also led to school goals with a narrow focus, such as increasing the percent proficient on the state test. Students will return in the fall with a wide range of unfinished, on track, and advanced learning. Learning at both ends of the spectrum will not be captured if we only look at proficiency. Fall 2020 offers an opening to include both type of goals: growth, which recognizes all the learning occurring at a school, and proficiency, which keeps an eye on benchmarks for success.   

Pitfalls to prevent

  1. Waiting until fall to start this work. Don’t miss out on the great work time provided by the summer. Though you may not have spring data, data from last fall or winter can help you draft school goals that can be adjusted and finalized in the fall with baseline data. If you use MAP Growth, here are two ways to go about this:
    • Review your District Summary Report, which shows district or school data over multiple testing terms and years. Look at your school’s previous fall-to-fall RIT growth to consider what growth you might make after this fall. With this information in mind, set a finalized goal once you have your fall scores.
    • Look at your Student Growth Summary Report, which shows your school data by grade. For your last tested term, analyze each grade’s percentile ranking and standard deviation (SD). Assume that grades with the lowest percentile ranking or highest SD last year will return in the fall at the same place or with even more needs. Use these findings to start to conceptualize where more support may be needed. 
  2. Naming the “what” without the “how.” Setting goals is just the destination in the GPS; you still need the route. Given the interrupted learning experienced this year, it will be especially important that you map out various supports that will allow you to achieve school goals. Here are some support examples to consider:
    • Staff professional development. Determine how you will tailor staff professional learning to handle greater student readiness variance in classes. 
    • Teacher collaboration. Add time for teachers to collaborate vertically across grades to gain expertise in their students’ varied learning needs.
    • Scheduling. Get creative with scheduling by extending the school day, offering after-school tutoring, or developing a flexible block so students can get differentiated instruction.
  3. Not involving the community. Goals should happen with people, not to When shared collectively, goals become more of a group effort. School leaders can distribute responsibility for reaching them across the full community and get everyone’s buy-in. Some families might want to lend their time or expertise to further school goals, for example. Students might have some fun coming up with benchmark goal incentive ideas, while teachers may have creative ideas for adjusting curricular maps. Leveraging the full learning community helps ensure goals are met.  

Imagine the possibilities

Setting school goals after COVID-19 closures is unknown territory for all of us and can be daunting. But by shifting our mindset, just as we ask our students to do every day, we can see this challenging summer as an opportunity to improve goal-setting practices for this school year and beyond. Go forth, trailblazers!


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