by Richard Wilson, NJEA staff
It may seem daunting, but done properly, the process can empower teachers to set meaningful goals for students and use those goals as evidence of learning
Good teachers know their content, understand what they want students to learn by year’s end, take stock of the students that enter their classrooms in September, and then create a plan to get their students to that final goal line. This process is exactly what occurs when developing student growth objectives. In its simplest form, a student growth objective (SGO) is a long-term academic goal, set by a teacher in collaboration with a supervisor. What is new is how students succeed in reaching that goal will be calculated into a teacher’s summative evaluation.
The 2012 tenure and evaluation law, also known as TEACH NJ, required that teacher evaluation be based on both teacher practice, through the use of an approved instrument, and student achievement. Within the student achievement side of the equation was a requirement for multiple measures of student growth. The SGO is a process to fit that requirement.
This school year, all instructional teaching staff who receive a student growth percentile score based on the NJASK (grades 4-8 language arts and math teachers) will be required to complete at least one SGO. All other teaching staff members will be required to complete two SGOs. Whether a teacher completes one or two, the SGOs will account for 15 percent of the total summative evaluation.
There are five steps to developing a quality student growth objective, and each should be completed within a particular time frame. The steps are:
- Choosing or developing a quality measurement tool that is aligned to applicable standards.
- Determining students’ starting points.
- Setting ambitious, yet achievable student growth objectives.
- Tracking progress and refining instruction accordingly.
- Reviewing results of assessments and scoring the SGO.
Choosing a measurement tool
Before developing an objective, a teacher must identify the most important content or skills from a course or class. SGOs can be created around a summary of content from a course, using something like a final assessment, or can reflect “power standards.” SGOs can also be written around a specific set of skills that a group of students need to successfully complete the course.
Once the teacher establishes what will be measured, the next step is to determine how it will be measured. The measurement tool can take a variety of formats, depending on the nature of the course or class. For example, you may consider a traditional assessment, a collection of work in a portfolio, or a performance assessment.
Choosing or developing an assessment can be done prior to the start of the school year, once a teacher knows his or her teaching assignment. This decision can be made collaboratively with colleagues who teach the same subject or grade level and would be an ideal topic for a professional learning community. When choosing or developing an assessment it is important to keep in mind that it should include a level of rigor that is appropriate to the content of the course.
This assessment does not have to be something brand new or something that is purchased. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If a district or school has an assessment or a set of assessments that it has used, it makes sense to continue to use these and simply apply them to this new process. It is crucial to remember, however, that the assessment cannot cover the entire year and is administered late in the year, the SGO might not be scored until the beginning of the next school year. To avoid this, an assessment can be given earlier and the SGO can be scored at the annual review conference. Another important point is that the NJASK cannot be used as an assessment for SGO purposes because it is used to determine a student growth percentile.
A traditional assessment could be a paper/pencil task that is developed or purchased from a publisher. It could be something as formal as an AP exam or as informal as a common assessment developed within a department or a professional learning community.
For some course content, it might make more sense to collect student work over the course of a school year in a portfolio and use that as the final assessment. For example, if a teacher is working to improve writing across several genres, the teacher could collect writing samples from before and after the teaching of a unit on each of those genres, looking for growth on an agreed-upon writing rubric. Portfolios are often a more authentic demonstration of student work, without the pressure of a high-stakes test. A challenge around the use of portfolios is the need for a very clear, agreed-upon rubric to assess student work prior to the beginning of the collection of work.
Performance assessment is another option. With the performance assessment, students show they have mastered content through the completion of a task or set of tasks. These assessments could include the performance of a lab in one of the sciences, sight reading performances in music, a demonstration of physical education skills, or a persuasive speech in a public speaking class. Such assessments might lend themselves to areas such as the practical and performing arts, physical education, or other areas where students can show the attainment of a set of skills in ways that do not include paper/pencil tasks.
No matter which type of assessment you choose, it is important that you and your supervisor agree on the type of assessment early in the school year. The more clearly everything is spelled out in the beginning of the SGO process, the less chance there is for disagreement about the results in the spring.