Measuring Growth: Diverse Classes & Caseloads

The requirements of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) have made some Special Education teachers feel as though we are trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Classrooms are unique; caseloads are diverse.  The struggle of finding a way to measure and monitor multiple students with a wide range of ability levels under a single SLO becomes a challenge.

Do not despair!  There are many ways to approach the process of writing your SLO and growth goals to accomplish the objectives of the process while also keeping the work meaningful and helpful to the educator.

Learning Goals

Think of the learning goal as the backbone of the SLO.  For every SLO there must be an overarching goal:  an “umbrella” that encompasses the specific type of learning measured under this tool.  The learning goal should focus on a “big idea.”  The big idea should integrate multiple content standards, link units of instruction together and represent the most important learning happening with the students.  Teachers will inevitably have several big ideas in a school year, but they are not all to be included in the same SLO.

When working with a diverse population, think about a learning goal that may be applicable to multiple students.  For example, if you select writing skills as part of a learning goal, you can measure students working on pre-writing skills as well as students working on developing words or sentences.  Using a performance assessment where your students can show their level of expertise through multiple work samples, coupled with a robust and descriptive rubric, the educator can measure diverse ability levels. In this case, each student would have an individual goal for progress set based on his or her baseline results.  The overall SLO growth goal would indicate that students reach those individual growth targets.  Thus, under the same SLO, a wide range of student ability levels can be successfully measured and monitored for growth.


Arguably the most important element of the whole SLO process is the assessment tools themselves.  If teachers are not using quality tools to measure and monitor the learning of students, the entire process is in vain!  Creating an assessment that is authentic and appropriate for an educator’s student population will be of utmost importance.  In special education cases, the performance assessment coupled with a high quality, descriptive rubric will allow the teacher the ability to reliability gather data about learning and growth.

There is some concern among some educators that performance assessments do not allow teachers to gather reliable or accurate growth data.  Taking steps to intentionally increase the reliability of results with strategic and reliable rubrics will increases the consistency in grading between students as well as the consistency in grading between measurement points.  Much of this reliability lies in the tool itself as well as how it is implemented.

Rubrics to measure growth in a classroom with a wide range of ability levels must be robust enough to measure the variety of ability levels present.  That means a rubric for these scenarios may have more columns of potential rating categories than a classroom with a smaller range of ability levels.  The rubric should represent all levels of potential learning so growth can be documented for all students.

Do not shy away from measuring student independence as well.  This type of rubric gives the highest amount of points going to students who can accomplish the task independently, and students who can do the task with verbal and gestural prompts get less point respectively.  Thus, educators can measure students at several different ability levels using the same tool.

SLO Roster

Each SLO has a defined population.  These students become the “roster” for the SLO.  A teacher’s SLO roster does not need to include every student on the caseload.  Under a single learning goal “umbrella,” there may be a clear distinction as to which students this SLO should include, and which it should exclude.  It is a worthwhile note that increasing sample size will allow more accurate data, so it is recommended that teachers select learning goals and develop SLO rosters that include larger groups of students when possible.

Writing Goals

The flexibility educators have in writing goals for the SLOs is crucial to making this process meaningful to special education teachers.

Individualized goals allow the educator to create a specific goal for each student under the same Learning Goal.  For example, a teacher may have gathered baseline data for several students using an outing rubric.  This tool measured their ability to cross the street and order at a restaurant.  Each student included on the SLO roster can have an individualized target, and the overall SLO goal would be that students achieve their individualized growth.

Tiered goals allow the educator to group similar students together and set specific goals for each tier.  These tiered goals still fit under the same learning goal.  For example, a teacher may have gathered baseline data in math skills. This tool measured several major standards under the same learning goal.  Goals for students who have similar skill intervention needs can be set as separate tiers within the group.

Make it Work for Kids

At the end of the day the most important thing we can do is ensure that all students are growing and improving.  If teachers are taking advantage of the SLO system flexibility and focusing on the unique needs of their students the process can be a natural partner to the teaching and learning already embedded in our everyday work.  The SLO shouldn’t’ reshape teaching but rather help educators to articulate and monitor the learning and growing process.

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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