Student Growth Objectives
By: Melissa Hancock
Teachers in New Jersey are in the midst of a major change in how they are evaluated. One portion of this new evaluation system is the creation and monitoring of Student Growth Objectives (SGOs). As part of the TEACHNJ Act, all teachers in the state must create between one and two of these SGOs with approval of their principal. Student Growth Objectives are designed to be long-term academic goals. Teachers can set them for all of their students or a specific sub-group of students. Overall, SGOs are designed to help teachers assess where their students are and where they want them to be at the end of instruction.
The number of SGOs set is based on whether the teacher teaches a “Tested Grade and Subject” or not. “Tested Grades and Subjects” are fourth through eighth grade Language Arts and Mathematics. Teachers who teach these subject areas only need to create one SGO because they will also have a Student Growth Percentile (SGP) score that is based on their NJASK standardized test scores. Any teacher that does not teach these grades or subjects must prepare two SGOs. For both groups, the SGO score will count as 15% of their annual summative performance rating (NJDOE, 2013).
There are several keys to setting SGOs. According to the state, the goals should be “SMART” or: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. In order to be specific, the objective should identify a skill or content students need to master. It must be measurable because teachers need to be able to identify a way to measure the results. In order for it to be achievable, there must be current student data available. It should be relevant in that it reflects the standards of the content area or course being taught. Finally, it should be timely in that the objective can be accomplished in the time frame set forth (NJDOE, 2013).
There are two types of SGOs that can be set, general or specific. One principal I spoke with said that her district is recommending teachers set one of each, but that it is not required. If you choose to set a general SGO, you are using a broad scope. General SGOs usually include all or large portions of the curriculum and all or most of your students. Specific SGOs may focus on a certain subgroup of your students or a specific skill or content standard. Either type of SGO can also be tiered. This means that you can set different expectations for different groups of students based on their preparation level. For example, you can take your baseline data and determine how many of your students are high, medium, or low in regard to their preparedness and set differing goals for each group. If you have stark contrasts in the levels of your students, you should consider using tiered objectives (NJDOE, 2013).
One of the most important parts of developing an SGO is to be sure the goal is appropriate to the level of the students. There are several options for measurement tools including traditional pre and post tests, performance assessments, and portfolio assessments. The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) suggests teachers use caution when using a pretest and posttest for SGOs because they are often arbitrary evaluations that are weak in establishing baseline data. If using this model, teachers would need to have done an item-by-item analysis of the test and would have hopefully administered the test many times before and thoroughly analyzed the data. A portfolio assessment is able to play to every child’s strengths and allows for multiple measures of proficiency. In my opinion, it is a better measure of ability, baseline, and growth and paints a robust picture of where students are. Performance assessments are another option because they allow teachers to assess both process and product. These might be helpful in content areas like science, music, art, and physical education (NJEA, 2013).
When analyzing your baseline data, you should see what the students can do when they come into your classroom. If they can’t perform the desired task or are missing key prerequisite skills, you should lower your target percentage. The District Evaluation Advisory Committee (DEAC) should set the range of percentages from one level to the next, but the NJEA suggested a range of 10-15%. This is the range of what the difference would be between a score of full and a score of exceptional or partial. However, it is important that teachers are allowed to set their own target (full) percentage, because they know the students best. If the administration tries to set a standard target percentage, this would be an arbitrary number and not acceptable for evaluation according to the NJEA (NJEA, 2013).
Once the baseline data has been assessed, it is time to begin writing the SGO. The SGO will include all grade levels covered, the interval of time, and a rationale for the SGO. This should include the standards being covered, why they are important, and an explanation of the assessments to be used and how they will be used. The actual SGO is written indicating the target percentage of students and how much they will improve on the assessment. Baseline data should be included as to student levels at the beginning of the year and any other data relevant to student progress such as attendance, socioeconomic status, and etc. In the scoring plan, the target percentage, or full percentage, is calculated by the teacher, who also calculates the other percentages (exceptional, partial, and insufficient) based on the range set by the DEAC (NJDOE, 2013).
This year the SGOs must be set by November 15th. In order for the SGO to be finalized, it must be agreed upon by both the teacher and the building principal. Progress is then tracked periodically throughout the year. This should include at a minimum of a mid-year assessment and then a final assessment at the end of the year (NJDOE, 2013). I suggest all teachers do a mid-year assessment so there are no surprises at the end of the year. A mid-year assessment is also important because if a teacher discovers his or her SGO was out of line, possibly because of poor baseline data, it can only be revised through February 15th. After that point, the SGO must stand as it is and will be used to determine teacher effectiveness.
At the end of the year, the final score is calculated by the principal. However, I suggest that all teachers calculate their own final score as well. Teachers should bring their scored assessments, portfolios, or performance rubrics with them to their final meeting. It is important for all teachers to come to the meeting prepared with both their evidence and their own calculated scores. Their goal is a score of full (3); and this will be used for determining the SGO percentage of the summative evaluation (NJDOE, 2013).
If used properly, SGOs can help teachers by allowing them to focus on content that actually matters, use formative assessments to drive their instruction, and to differentiate instruction to meet individual needs (NJEA, 2013). My concern is that teachers in different districts are receiving different amounts of training on the development and monitoring of SGOs. Some administrators are saying the whole process is really very simple, while others are stressing the seriousness of needing to set achievable and measurable goals. Overall, I believe that setting SGOs can be helpful, but I wish teachers in every district had been given the opportunity to pilot the system for a year before they were fully implemented and used as a basis for evaluating teacher effectiveness.
New Jersey Education Association. (8 Oct 2013). Student Growth Objectives [PowerPoint Slides].
New Jersey Department of Education. (2013). “Achieve New Jersey for Teachers: Student Growth Objectives.” Retrieved from http://www.state.nj.us/education/AchieveNJ/teacher/objectives.shtml