By: Rachel Brown, Ph.D., NCSP
Last week’s blog provided guidance about which FastBridge® reports teams can use to review student outcomes from the current school year and plan for next year. In addition, school and district-level teams can set specific student performance goals for the upcoming school year. Importantly, all schools can benefit from goal setting, not just those with many low-performing students. It is important to know how to set appropriate goals and identify any additional supports that teachers will need in order for students to reach the goals.
Which Schools Need Goals?
The short answer is all of them! Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, famously said “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” The gist of this statement is that if there is no specific goal in mind for a journey, then a map is not needed. Schools years can be thought of as journeys during which all students should improve their skills, regardless of starting point. School-level and district-level goals provide a roadmap for teachers to follow in order for students to improve their skills. Often, schools where most students have low scores on state or district assessments are seen as needing goals, but higher performing schools might not be. The problem with setting goals only for lower-achieving schools is that those students who start out meeting or exceeding expected standards are at risk for not making the progress they deserve to make. This could happen because, without goals, there is no basis for comparing student scores over time. For students at lower-performing schools, goals are important because they provide a plan for boosting students’ skills with the purpose of helping as many students as possible achieve grade-level learning standards.
Setting Appropriate Goals
While all students need learning goals, the same goal will not work for all students. This is because students start at different levels. Some very low performing students might not be able to catch up to grade level within one school year so using only the grade-level benchmark or standard as the goal will only set up those students for failure. Alternatively, higher-performing students might have already surpassed the grade level goal. Relying exclusively on the grade level benchmark for all students could result in high achieving students not being expected to make any gains at all. In order for goals to be effective and helpful they must be created in relation to current student performance. Additionally, it is important to set both group and individual student goals.
Group goals. Group goals are ones set for any given grouping of students such as classes, grades, schools, or the district. Group goals are important because they incorporate the principle that all students deserve to make growth every school year. In addition, group goals help teachers check in on all students’ progress. One way to set a group goal is to identify the group’s average rate of improvement (ROI) from the current year and then set a higher, but reasonable, ROI for the coming year. For example, if a class average ROI from this past school year on CBMreading was 1.3 words read correctly per week, then a higher one for next year can be set. It is important that the goal be reasonable and not so much higher than typical ROI that it cannot be met. The specific amount of gain in a group goal might not be achieved by all students in the group because some students will attain lower or higher growth amounts. Still, having the group goal focuses on making sure that all students are making growth toward their individual goals. Having teachers work together to set grade level and content area goals can be a good starting point because the typical ROI for each grade level is usually known and then all teachers share in the responsibility to boost student success.
Individual student goals. While all students deserve to make gains, some students might benefit from highly specific individual goals. In particular, students whose starting performance is well below grade level need more intensive instruction and supports if they are going to reach the grade level standards. Students needing individual goals include those with Individualized Education Programs (IEP) delivered through special education and those participating in general education tiered interventions. Students with IEPs will have their goals written into their plans and these are typically managed by the special education teacher. IEP goals may or may not focus on having the student catch up to grade level peers, depending on the specific nature of the student’s disability. By contrast, tiered support intervention goals ALWAYS focus on helping the student catch up and meet grade level standards.
In order to set individual learning goals, the team must know the student’s starting point. One way to identify the starting point is to review universal screening data and compare it with other sources of information about student performance such as classroom assessments. Often, these data will suggest the starting point and then the team can calculate a reasonable goal. If the available data do not provide enough information to identify the starting level, then an additional screening assessment can be used. For all students, it is important to set reasonable goals. Reasonable goals are ones that the student is likely to achieve in the upcoming school year when provided with the appropriate instruction.
It can be tempting to set goals for struggling students at the grade-level benchmark, however, if the student’s starting score is substantially below the grade level, it is unlikely that the student will reach the goal. Instead, the best way to identify an appropriate goal for a student is to look at the grade or skill level associated with the student’s screening or progress data. If available, the ROI from prior progress monitoring can be reviewed. It is important to set a goal that the student will likely reach in the next school year. In order to help teams set appropriate and reasonable goals, the FastBridge® progress monitoring system shows a default ROI that is based on research documenting typical growth on the specific progress measure. This ROI can be adjusted in relation to the amount of gain the student is likely to achieve with the planned intervention. After the ROI is set, the FastBridge® system then automatically calculates the year-end student goal.
In some cases, it might be helpful or necessary for school leaders to plan for additional resources in order for goals to be reached. For example, in order to track student progress over time, the school will need to have both screening and progress monitoring assessments available. FastBridge Learning® has such assessments available in the areas of reading, math, and behavior. It might also be important to make certain that interventions appropriate for improving student skills be available and that the staff who will provide them are trained. The end of the current school year is a good time to inventory available teaching materials and place orders for any additional items needed. It is also a good time to schedule training for both interventions and assessments that will be used to help students reach their goals.
Group and individual student goal setting is an important part of providing a multi-tier system of support (MTSS). With group goals, teachers work together to improve learning outcomes for all students. Individual goals provide a way to identify specific learning needs and to plan for both intervention and progress monitoring. Steps for setting both group and individual goals include identifying the current skill level, calculating a reasonable ROI, and then setting specific goals.