Student Learning Objectives, aka Student Growth Objectives, aka Another Attempt to Quantify “High Quality” Teaching

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After a previous post about VAMs v. Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) (see also VAMs v. SGPs Part II) a reader posted a comment asking for more information about the utility of SGPs, but also about the difference between SGPs and Student Growth Objectives.

“Student Growth Objectives” is a new term for an older concept that is being increasingly integrated into educational accountability systems nationwide, and also under scrutiny (see one of Diane Ravitch’s recent posts about this here). But the concept underlying Student Growth Objectives (SGOs) is essentially just Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). Why they insist on using the term “growth” in place of the term “learning” is perhaps yet another fad. Related, it also likely has something to do with various legislative requirements (e.g., Race to the Top terminologies), although evidence in support of this transition is also void.

Regardless, and put simply, an SGO/SLO is an annual goal for measuring student growth/learning of the students instructed by teachers (or principals, for school-level evaluations) who are not eligible to participate in a school’s or district’s value-added or student growth model. This includes the vast majority of teachers in most schools or districts (e.g., 70+%), because only those teachers who instruct reading/language arts or mathematics in state achievement tested grade levels, typically grades 3-8, are eligible to participate in the VAM or SGP evaluation system. Hence via the development of SGOs/SLOs, administrators and others were either unwilling to allow these exclusions to continue or forced to establish a mechanism to include the other teachers to meet some legislative mandate.

New Jersey, for example, defines an SGO as “a long-term academic goal that teachers set for groups of students and must be: Specific and measureable; Aligned to New Jersey’s curriculum standards; Based on available prior student learning data; A measure of what a student has learned between two points in time; Ambitious and achievable” (for more information click here).

Denver Public Schools has been using SGOs for many years; their 2008-2009 Teacher Handbook states that an SGO must be “focused on the expected growth of [a teacher’s] students in areas identified in collaboration with their principal,” as well as that the objectives must be “Job-based; Measurable; Focused on student growth in learning; Based on learning content and teaching strategies; Discussed collaboratively at least three times during the school year; May be adjusted during the school year; Are not directly related to the teacher evaluation process; [and] Recorded online” (for more information click here).

That being said, and in sum, SGOs/SLOs, like VAMs, are not supported with empirical work. As Jersey Jazzman summarized very well in his post about this, the correlational evidence is very weak, the conclusions drawn by outside researchers are a stretch, and the rush to implement these measures is just as unfounded as the rush to implement VAMs for educator evaluation. We don’t know that SGOs/SLOs make a difference in distinguishing “good” from “poor” teachers; and in fact, some could argue (like Jersey Jazzman does) that they don’t actually do so much of anything at all. They’re just another metric being used in the attempt to quantify “high quality” teaching.

Thanks to Dr. Sarah Polasky for this post.

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3 thoughts on “Student Learning Objectives, aka Student Growth Objectives, aka Another Attempt to Quantify “High Quality” Teaching

  1. Student learning objectives (or student growth objectives) are a version of management-by-objectives in business. Lower-level managers identify measurable goals once or twice a year. A manager of higher rank approves the goals. Rewards go to lower-level managers whose performance meet or exceed the approved goals. See Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management (1954).
    The version in many schools comes from a group in charge of promoting the Race to the Top of agenda. They favor the Denver model See http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/implementation-support-unit/tech-assist/slo-toolkit.pdf
    This version requires every teacher to write one or more SLOs for their classes, often using a computer template. Each SLO is graded on about 26 criteria in 8 categories: Rationale, Population, Interval of time, Assessments, Expected growth, Learning Content, Teaching Strategies.
    Teachers must analyze baseline test data on students (prior year tests, pretests) and set “targets” for pre-to-posttest gains in scores, on an approved district-wide test, for each student and subgroups. An evaluator rates the SLO/SGO using a four or five point scale—“high quality” to “unacceptable” or “incomplete.” Later in the year, teachers who have similar district-approved SLOs are rated and ranked on the gains in test scores they have produced.
    Bottom line: “Growth” is a euphemistic name for a gain in test scores from one point in time to another. Meeting “growth targets for learning” is like meeting a sales target or a production quota by a date certain. Students are performing “on grade level” if their test scores are at or above the median on a percentile scale (1-99). A student is said to have achieved “a year’s worth of growth” if his or her gain-score on a proficiency test is equal to, or greater than, the gain-score made by a 50th percentile student. Teachers in some districts are rated “highly effective” only if all or most of their students have gain-scores of “more than a year’s worth of growth.”
    A 2013 review of research bearing on SLO/SGOs documented unresolved issues in the validity, reliability, efficiency, and fairness of these measures for high-stakes evaluations of teachers in a wide range of subjects and job assignments. Gill, B., Bruch, J., & Booker, K. (2013). Using alternative student growth measures for evaluating teacher performance: What the literature says. (REL 2013–002). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs.

  2. Can principals require teachers to write these learning objectives in NYC public schools? My understanding is that there was a grievance filled by the UFT due to the fact that teachers can not be forced to write the objectives. Thanks for the info.

    • This issue appears to have been resolved in summer 2013, when NYCDOE and UFT participated in a review with the State of New York Commissioner of Education. The Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plan from the NYCDOE outlines the resolution to the complaint from UFT. NYCDOE does use SLOs and they list four options from which to choose in developing SLOs. This may not be the best link in terms of a direct source, but it has the full text document. This site hosts the UFT submission to the review with the Commissioner, related to SLOs (referenced in the letter from the commissioner, above). Finally, the state’s APPR site, EngageNY, provides a pretty comprehensive review of SLO usage and regulations for the state, including an overview, SLO Guidance, and field guidance. All of this said, it seems that yes, teachers are required to develop SLOs in NYCDOE.

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