7 Tips for Reducing SLO Stress

Writing Student Growth goals for your Student Learning Objectives or Student Learning Targets can make even the most confident teacher pause.

Having a good plan will help you reduce stress and increase your success!  Here are some simple tips to help you write good goals without losing sleep.

1. Make it about GROWTH

Students grow and learn every year.  All students do not start in the same place, so a goal that they all end in the same place is rather unreasonable if you think about it.  Setting goals for students to improve and grow their understanding is a much more natural and appropriate way to write goals.

Attainment is measured by a single score.  A final exam.  A chapter test.  These attainment assessments tell us if students have met desired outcomes.

Growth brings another dimension to measuring learning.  A goal focused on improvement is helpful for students at all levels of the learning spectrum.  The high student who may have already met the target early in the year can have a rigorous goal for continued growth.  The student who is scoring far below the target in the baseline can have a reasonable target set that is attainable based on his/her specific abilities and challenges.

 2.  Focus on your Priorities

Write your SLO growth goals for something you have the opportunity to REALLY impact!  Don’t use the minutia of your curriculum but rather concepts and skills you teach again, and again.  Lets think about everything you teach in an instructional interval.   Overwhelming, isn’t it?  There is so much!  The Growth Goal of the SLO will not cover everything that is taught.  Rather, it should focus on a specific “Big Idea” or learning goal.

The SLO Big Idea:

  1. Multiple content standards
  2. Linking units of instruction together
  3. Represents the most important learning– Endurance: Knowledge of value beyond a single test, Leverage: Valuable in multiple disciplines, Readiness for the Next Level: Skills needed for next grade or course Ainsworth, L (2003)

Remember that you may have several big ideas in a school year, but you will not have them all on the same Growth Goal or SLO.

3. Make it Measurable

We know some skills are harder to measure than others.  For the SLO goal process, every goal needs to be measurable

Not Measurable:

“…will appreciate the benefits of exercise.”  

“…will demonstrate inferencing skills.”

“…will improve writing skills”

Though both goals are arguably important, are not easily measured.  How will the teacher measure the student’s’ initial appreciation of benefits of exercise and compare it to later appreciation?  Developing or finding a specific assessment tool to measure the “Big Idea” or “Learning Goal” will help you write a measurable goal.


“…will improve 2 tiers on the Understanding Fitness for Life PE Rubric”

“…will reach individual student improvement targets on the Reading for Information Assessment Set”

“…will improve by 25% on the 4th grade writing rubric”

4. Choose Quality Assessments

Junk In…Junk Out!  The importance of good assessments in the goal process is paramount.  Make the assessments meaningful so you can have meaningful conversations about student learning.  Make the assessments valid and reliable.  Make the assessments comparable or mirrored for growth.  The better your tool, the better your data, the better your goals, and the more likely you are able to easily make instructional changes to reach your goals!

Important Mirroring Elements

  1. Content: The assessments measure the same material/skills
  2. Form:  The assessments are in the same format (multiple choices vs performance, etc.)
  3. Complexity:  The assessments are at the same level of difficulty

5. Rigorous, yet REALISTIC

YES!  Shoot for the moon!  BUT be reasonable.  Goals need to be ambitious and “stretch” your students, yet there is no point in setting unattainable goals only to disappoint yourself, your students and your evaluator.  So, how do you know if you are being ambitious, yet not overly ambitious?  Look at historical data from a) students you are currently teaching on previous assessment systems and b) students who have taken the assessment set you are currently implementing.

6. Use Historical Data

Past performances can predict future performance.  That can be used to write quality SLO growth  goals.  Let this work for you!

Type #1: Current Class Scores @ Previous Assessment Systems.

You might have MAP, STAR, ACT or AIMS data on students in your class.  What did they score on previous nationally normed exams?  Trend data on your current students may tell you what kind of learners they are, and what deficits they have.  Be cautious of “pigeonholing” students.  My best growth always comes from some of my lowest students:  they needed the right teacher to inspire and motivate them!

Type #2: Previous Student Scores @ Current Assessment System

If you have used your assessment tool before, you have historical data.  If that means you used the rubric to score a writing prompt before, or you used this same math assessment set you have historical data on previous students.  You can’t compare the whole group last year to the whole group this year.  That’s apples to oranges.  BUT you may find patterns that match some students you have now.  For example, look for previous students that score similar baseline scores a current student(s).  Would you expect this current student to grow and learn in a similar way?  Why or why not?  Asking yourself these questions while examining historical data will help you make good choices about reasonable goals.

7. Try a Peer Review

Writing anything alone isn’t easy.  We all are in buildings filled with fantastic teachers and administrators.  Going through this process with a partner helps ease the stress of the goal writing!  Don’t hesitate to reach out to your colleague looking for advice…chances are they would appreciate the same advice from you!


Anne Weerda
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Anne Weerda

This article was written by Kids at the Core founder, Anne Weerda.

Anne is an assessment and curriculum specialist best known for her work in assessment design, data analysis and instructional effectiveness. Anne is a sought after speaker in the area of assessment design, curriculum and instruction.
Anne Weerda
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