Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) as a Measure of Teacher Effectiveness: A Survey of the Policy Landscape

I have invited another one of my former PhD students, Noelle Paufler, to the VAMboozled! team, and for her first post she has written on student learning objectives (SLOs), in large part as per the prior request(s) of VAMboozled! followers. Here is what she wrote:

Student learning objectives (SLOs) are rapidly emerging as the next iteration in the policy debate surrounding teacher accountability at the state and national levels. Purported as one solution to the methodologically challenging task of measuring the effectiveness of teachers of subject areas for which large-scaled standardized tests are unavailable, SLOs prompt the same questions of validity, reliability, and fairness raised by many about value-added models (VAMs). Defining the SLO process as “a participatory method of setting measurable goals, or objectives, based on the specific assignment or class, such as the students taught, the subject matter taught, the baseline performance of the students, and the measurable gain in student performance during the course of instruction” (Race to the Top Technical Assistance Network, 2010, p. 1), Lacireno-Paquet, Morgan, and Mello (2014) provide an overview of states’ use of SLOs in teacher evaluation systems.

There are three primary types of SLOs (i.e., for individual teachers, teams or grade levels, and school-wide) that may target subgroups of students and measure student growth or another measurable target (Lacireno-Paquet et al., 2014). SLOs relying on one or more assessments (e.g., state-wide standardized tests; district-, school-, or classroom measures) for individual teachers are most commonly used in teacher evaluation systems (Lacireno-Paquet et al., 2014). At the time of their writing, 25 states had included SLOs under various monikers (e.g., student learning targets, student learning goals) in their teacher evaluation systems (Lacireno-Paquet et al., 2014). Of these states, 24 provide a structured process for setting, approving, and evaluating SLOs which most often requires an evaluator at the school or district level to review and approve SLOs for individual teachers (Lacireno-Paquet et al., 2014). For more detailed state-level information, read the full report here.

Arizona serves as a case in point for considering the use of SLOs as part of the Arizona Model for Measuring Educator Effectiveness, an evaluation system comprising measures of teacher professional practice (50%-67%) and student achievement (33%-50%). Currently, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) classifies teachers into two groups (A and B) based on the availability of state standardized tests for their respective content areas. ADE (2015) defines teachers “who have limited or no classroom level student achievement data that are valid and reliable, aligned to Arizona’s academic standards and appropriate to teachers’ individual content area” as Group B for evaluation purposes (e.g., social studies, physical education, fine arts, career and technical education [CTE]) (p. 1). Recommending SLOs as a measure of student achievement for these teachers, ADE (2015) cites their use as a means to positively impact student achievement, especially when teachers collaboratively create quality common assessments to measure students across a grade level or within a content area. ADE (2015) describes SLOs as “classroom level measures of student growth and mastery” that are “standards based and relevant to the course content,” “specific and measureable,” and “use [student data from] two points in time,” specifically stating that individual lesson objectives and units of study do not qualify and discouraging teaching to the test (p. 1). Having piloted the SLO process in the 2012-2013 school year with full implementation in the 2013-2014 school year in five Local Education Agencies (LEAs) (four district and one charter), ADE (2015) continues to discuss next steps in the implementation of SLOs.

Despite this growing national interest in and rapid implementation of SLOs, very little research has examined the perspectives of district- and school-level administrators and teachers (in both Groups A and B or their equivalent) with regards to the validity, reliability, and fairness of measuring student achievement in this manner. Additional research in early adopter states as well as in states that are piloting the use of SLOs is needed in order to better understand the implications of yet another wave of accountability policy changes.

References

Arizona Department of Education. (2015). The student learning objective handbook. Retrieved from http://www.azed.gov/teacherprincipal-evaluation/files/2015/01/slo-handbook-7-2.pdf?20150120

Lacireno-Paquet, N., Morgan, C., & Mello, D. (2014). How states use student learning objectives in teacher evaluation systems: A review of state websites (REL 2014-013). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory North-east & Islands. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/projects/project.asp?projectID=380

Race to the Top Technical Assistance Network. (2010). Measuring student growth for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects: A primer. Washington, DC: ICF International. Retrieved http://nassauboces.org/cms/lib5/NY18000988/Centricity/Domain/156/NTS__PRIMER_FINAL.pdf

2 thoughts on “Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) as a Measure of Teacher Effectiveness: A Survey of the Policy Landscape

  1. It is good to see that the SLO issue is still being addressed. I think that the website search of SLOs, conducted by Lacireno-Paquet, N., Morgan, C., & Mello, D. (2014), is deeply flawed. The report from ICF International is one of the first marketing pieces from the USDE grants to that group for publications, webinars, white papers for USDE’s Race to the Top Technical Assistance Network. I suggest that a close look at this report will offer insights into how the merit of this writing assignment has been inflated. Community Training and Assistance Center, (2013, February). It’s more than money: Teacher Incentive Fund—Leadership for educators’ advanced per-formance, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Boston, MA: Author.

    You may also be interested in my exchange of comments with someone at Wested who has a contract to make SLOs work in the State of Maryland. Basically, the recommendation was to ignore the questions and check with the Ohio State Department of Education. I had done that. And that is why I ended up writing the paper about the marketing of SLOs.
    http://www.wested.org/mid-atlantic-comprehensive-center-helps-maryland-reach-unprecedented-agreement/

  2. Hi Laura,

    I am very interested in your thoughts on SLOs. I clicked on the link you provided but apparently the document was removed…?

    Can you help me find it and access it?

    Many thanks!
    Teri

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