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Student Growth Objectives and Let’s Go Learn

Last week I met with a large New Jersey school district.  I ended up reading the entire Achieve New Jersey document on student growth objectives (SGOs) on the plane ride home.  We have always known that our assessments can be used to measure student growth, which in turn is being driven by teacher evaluation, but it finally hit me that we can play a very interesting role in this whole process.  As many people know, NWEA has been getting a lot of bad press because its MAPS assessment is being used extensively for teacher evaluation.  But the reason teachers are upset is that when a summative score is used to inflexibly evaluate teachers, results can be misleading.  And MAPS is primarily used as a summative assessment.

For example, two teachers have classes of 30 students.  One teacher has 3 students with diagnosed behavior issues.  The other does not.  A simple measure looking at mastery of grade-level standards will statistically result in a lower score for the teacher with these 3 students with behavior issues.  That is because statistically, 3 out of 30 is significant.  Also, 3 students who are multiple years below grade level will significantly throw off some statistical measures, such as averages. 

With this said, student growth objectives, or SGOs, if implemented correctly, can offer a more flexible means of measuring a wider range of objectives.  In New Jersey, as in other race-to-the-top states, SGOs are happening.  But what we can do to help these districts is provide a way for teachers to measure skills by which they choose to be measured for their particular classes.  In New Jersey, for instance, a teacher will be able to decide that he or she is going to focus on phonics mastery for the class.  Then the teacher will perhaps use DORA's Phonics sub-test for pre- and post-measurement.  Next, looking at the make-up of this teacher’s specific class, the principal and teacher can decide that the target is 60% mastery at grade level by the end of the year, or possibly set two or more targets for two or more groups.  Likewise, another teacher, teaching the same grade as the first teacher, may determine that his or her class is actually already good at decoding so may focus instead on vocabulary development.  What is great about this is that it is allowing teachers to set personalized goals for their specific classes.  This is moving towards personalized learning. 

Our next goal is to develop some tools that will make this plan easier for districts to implement.  We've already proto-typed these and will probably deploy them in the summer.  If anyone has comments about this topic, please email me or comment below.  Thank you.

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