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How do teachers set reasonable goals for students?

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Goal setting has long been viewed as an impactful exercise for improving performance in virtually any field, such as athletics, business, music, and so forth. Education is no different. However, it’s been challenging for teachers to set reasonable, empirically based goals related to achievement.

A new approach for guiding teacher goal setting was recently presented at the National Association of School Psychologists Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. This tool, delivered in the STAR Assessment system, uses national growth norms to helps teachers understand how much growth is typical. In contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach in which we might expect every student to achieve the same amount of growth, this system provides more precise guidance that takes into consideration subject, grade, and prior achievement.

A key feature of this system (see sample screen at right) is that teachers have final authority on the goals that are set for their students. They know their students and the instruction they are receiving. The growth norms are presented as guidance so that realistic achievement goals can be set. Sometimes teachers choose goals in line with typical growth expectations, sometimes well above typical (which is called “ambitious”).

The presentation also summarized a number of interesting insights into how teachers set goals and to what extent students reach their goals, based on a study of 400,000 students.

  • The goal setting tool is primarily used with students working below grade level who are also receiving academic interventions.
  • Most teachers chose goals for their students that are in line with typical normative expectations.
  • Students who are assigned ambitious rates of growth are successful more often than would be expected, based on the growth norms. Students assigned typical rates of growth are successful at about the rate that would be expected.
  • Goal setting may be a powerful practice in and of itself. Students with goals experience significantly greater growth compared to similar students without goals.

This presentation is available by request to research@renaissance.com or NASP members may download it from http://www.nasponline.org/conventions/2015/post.aspx.