Realistic SMART Goals
We recently received a question about SMART goals. The author wanted to know where he could find information about the required specificity and realistic nature of SMART goals. He asked, “Is the following a realistic goal? 100% of students will master 100% of the said material.”
Here is our response:
If you look under Tools & Resources, you will find a template for writing SMART goals and examples from elementary, middle, and high schools.
It is impossible to answer your specific question because it does not include an essential element of a SMART goal—the current reality. For example, if this is a team goal, and last year 95% of the students demonstrated proficiency on essential outcomes as measured through state or local assessments created by the district or team, 100% would seem to be attainable (the “A” in SMART). If 50% of the students demonstrated proficiency, 100% is certainly unattainable unless angels have descended on the school and blessed the incoming class with extraordinary ability and the educators with deep insights into best pedagogical practices.
The “R” in SMART goal does not stand for realistic, but for results oriented. The goal should require improved results (higher levels of student achievement) from the preceding year. We looked at two questions when addressing the “R” in our school. First, does the goal call upon more students to learn at higher levels than the class we taught last year? For example, if last year 94% of the students in our algebra classes earned a C or higher at the end of the year, does the new goal move beyond 94%?
Second, in sequential courses, we also looked at the performance of the incoming students in the previous year. For example, if 90% of students who completed French I demonstrated proficiency at the end of the year, that was a factor in setting the goal for French II. We didn’t want teams to go backward.
You don’t mention your grade level, but considering the entering cohort is particularly important in elementary schools. A team could say, last year 85% of our students met or exceeded proficiency standards on the fourth-grade state assessment, so this year we want to go to 90%. This goal meets the first test. But if 95% of this year’s fourth graders were proficient on the test in third grade, a fourth-grade goal of 90% means the team is shooting to have fewer students exiting fourth grade as proficient compared to when they entered fourth grade. Thus, it doesn’t pass the second test.
In our school, each team was able to set its own goal as long as the goal indicated better results in both of these areas: last year’s group taught by our team and last year’s performance of the entering cohort. We didn’t quibble about how much improvement. If the team said we want to go from 90% last year to 91% this year, we were fine with that. We were not fine with any goal that went backward because it was inconsistent with our commitment to continuous improvement.