Team SMART Goals vs. Smart Students
A teacher raised this issue about SMART goals by offering this example:
Current Reality: Last year, 70% of the students in Algebra classes earned a final grade of C or better and 68% of the students met or exceeded the proficiency standard on the State/Provincial Algebra Assessment.
SMART Goal Example: This year, at least 75% of the students in Algebra will earn a final grade of C or better and at least 75% of our students will meet or exceed the proficiency standard on the State/Provincial Algebra Assessment.
His Question: "If we meet this SMART goal, how do we know if the change is the result of the actions we took or just that this group of students was more proficient in Algebra to start with? Aren’t we comparing apples and oranges? Maybe this year’s students are far better at Math than last year’s group and our actions actually hindered them from scoring at 80% or better."
Our Response: There are two assumptions we can make about teaching and learning. One is that students will learn according to their effort and ability and that their teachers and their school have no impact on their learning. The other is that teachers and schools can have a significant impact on student learning, and as teachers work more effectively and become more aware of more powerful strategies for teaching, assessing, and responding to students, they can help more students learn at higher levels.
Your question indicates that you subscribe to the first assumption: if Group B achieves at a higher level than Group A, it means the students in Group B are smarter. But thirty-five years of research on effective schools and effective teaching indicate the second assumption is valid: some teachers are able to help more students achieve at higher levels than other teachers in the same school teaching the same kind of students. I have no doubt that if you were to look at the achievement of all the students in your school over an extended period of time, the students of some teachers consistently outperform the others.
We advocate that teams set their SMART goal based on the assumption that the previous year of working and learning together will enable them to improve student learning for all incoming students. This kind of goal reflects the assumption that teachers make a difference.
If you would also like to establish a goal based on growth, and you had a valid way of assessing student proficiency at the start of the year, you could establish a growth goal as well. For example, a team might say, 83% of our entering students demonstrated proficiency on the state/provincial test in math last year. Our goal is to ensure at least 90% of these students are proficient on the state/provincial test at the end of this year. But I would advise that if you use a goal based on the growth of your students that you also use a goal based on your team’s growth as professionals. For example, of the students we taught last year, 85% scored proficient on the state/provincial test, and this year we want to get 90% to be proficient. Thus, you are setting one goal -90% proficiency - that has taken both student growth and teacher effectiveness into account. What I would not support is your establishing a goal based on incoming student proficiency that would result in lower student achievement than your team accomplished in the prior year.
Finally, here is a question we ask teachers: "Next year you have a choice of teaching either of two classes, both of which are grouped heterogeneously. In Class A we have grouped all the students who believe they will be successful in your class if they are smart, and that they will not be successful if they are not smart. In Class B we have grouped all the students who believe they will be successful if they apply themselves and work hard. Which class would you rather teach: those who believe they will be successful based on their innate intelligence or those who believe they will be successful based on their effort?"
Every time we ask that question, teachers pick class B. If we want students to believe that their success will be determined by the willingness to continue to work and learn, we should model that assumption and recognize that our effort and willingness to continue to grow as educators impacts the achievement of our students. If, as you suggest, the only factor impacting their achievement is the ability they enter the class with, we could administer a pre-test and assign grades for the year since what we as educators do does not matter.