Dennis King

Dennis King, EdD, is an assistant professor of education in the doctoral program at Baker University in Kansas. A consultant, he has served in multiple roles, from classroom teacher to assistant superintendent of school improvement.

Moving School Improvement Into the Classroom With SMART Goals

School districts across the United States are faced with improving achievement for all students.  The complexity of this issue has resulted in the expansion of organized walkthroughs taking place to look for specific examples of instruction such as technology, clearly identified objectives, or examples of student work posted throughout the hallways or filling the classroom walls.  This leads us to ponder whether this level of snooper vision actually results in higher performing classrooms.  Perhaps a better question would be:  What evidence could teachers share through the products created by their team as they focus on high levels of learning for all students?

One strategy to drive the school-improvement process into the classroom is through the establishment of a so-called Strategic, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, Time-bound goal or SMART goal.  When theses goals are based upon the desired proficiency or mastery level for a common instructional unit or common essential learning (power standard) determined by the teaching team, evidence supporting the goal becomes magnified as the team strives to meet their desired goal.

The alignment of SMART goals allows teachers to focus on data more closely associated to their daily work, resulting in immediate feedback for students.  The alignment of data for classroom use moves the data from big national picture data (10,000’ view) and state data (100’ view), to school data (50’ view), team data (10’ view), down to 1’ view data focusing on students within the common unit or essential learning in each classroom.  The resulting 1’ view data creates a singular focus among team members as they strive to meet the proficiency or mastery level for each student.  For example, in this mythical third-grade room:

District, Strategic Plan Goal (10,000’)

–All students will be proficient in math by the end of the 2011-2012 school year.

School-Improvement Plan Goal (elementary) (100’)

–Last year, 83 percent of all students achieved proficiency in mathematics. This year, 90 percent of all students will achieve proficiency in mathematics, and all grade levels will improve upon last year’s performance.

Third-Grade End-of-Year Team Goal (50’)

–Last year, 79 percent of our students were proficient in mathematics according to the state assessment. This year, 90 percent of our students will achieve proficiency in mathematics on the state test.

Third-Grade Team translates the team goal into short-term goals for each math unit (10’)

–Last year, 85 percent of our students were able to demonstrate proficiency in the addition and subtraction of two-digit integers at the end of this unit. This year, at least 90 percent of students will demonstrate proficiency in two-digit integers.

Classroom Goal (1’)

–We will use results from our formative assessments and our systematic intervention process to provide additional time and support for any student who experiences difficulty in demonstrating proficiency.

As teams become results-oriented based upon the 1’ data (individual student data pertaining to the particular unit or essential learning), teachers create evidence of learning that can be shared and celebrated throughout the entire school.  This is because the evidence is based upon products developed by the team. As teams collaborate to develop common units with the identified essential learnings along with the identified proficiency level for all students (SMART goal), one piece of evidence is attained. Additional evidence for teams to share and investigate is the development of common formative assessments and interventions. The use of common formative assessments allows each team (and teacher) to use data to identify students who need focused interventions or those who need enrichment.

Additionally, as teams share products and best practice instructional strategies and interventions to meet their 1’ data SMART goal for each student, the district and school benefit as aligned goals deliver up allowing schools to meet their 100’ data goal and districts to meet their 10,000’ goal.

In order to support this shift to classroom driving school improvement, a cultural shift from looking for student learning to discussing student learning should occur.  As teams develop common products and share the results of their products at faculty meetings with their colleagues and with both school and district administrators, evidence of student learning becomes transparent throughout both the school and district. Additionally, ownership becomes that of individual teachers and teams. The results of this framework create a cultural shift from compliance-oriented conversations to conversations from educators who are committed to learning for all students. More importantly, increased student learning will result as teachers align and develop products based upon best-practice strategies to meet their goals for each student.



The district I teach in is moving toward SMART Goals so I am starting to explore them in greater depth. Thank you for the background information.

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