Richard DuFour

Richard DuFour, EdD, was a public school educator for 34 years. A prolific author and sought-after consultant, he is recognized as one of the leading authorities on helping school practitioners implement the PLC at Work™ process.

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.


Kimberly Brosier

I am currently attending the PLC conference in Lincolnshire. I have enjoyed learning about PLCs from you and your wife, as I am taking on the PLC leadership role this coming year for my first grade team.

Our school's current SMART goal is "100% of students will demonstrate proficiency on state assessments". After reading your blog, I realize that this needs to be tweaked. First of all, prior to this year's goal, the percentage of last years students demonstrating proficiency should be stated. Because it is not, I do not know for sure if the 100% goal is actually attainable. Your example states that if 95% of students demonstrated proficiency, 100% would be attainable. I know that our percentage is not that high.

Also, do you recommend the principal creating a SMART goal for the school and each grade level create one for their own students?

Posted on

Richard DuFour

Hi Lauren, My answer to your question regarding whether your team should pursue one big writing goal at the end of the year or a series of short-term writing goals is, "yes." You should go with the Genius of AND and use both rather than the Tyranny of OR and select one over the other. For example, you might say that last year, 75% of second graders met the district standard on the end-of-year writing prompt. This year at least 80% of our students will meet that goal by the end of the year." You could then set a short-term goal for each unit. For example, if you knew that last year 70% of the students were able to use temporal words to explain the order of a sequence of events at the end of the unit on that topic, you could set a goal that this year 78% will be successful at the end of the unit. If you don't have the figures from last year, set a goal based on your collective judgment to set a goal for this year. Success in achieving short-term goals gives you something to celebrate and makes you more confident about achieving your goals at the end of the year. Best of luck, Rick DuFour

Posted on

Alexis Williams

Setting goals is an important and helpful activity to complete with your team. It’s always good to have one big, hairy, bold goal, but it’s vital to have stepping stones on the way to that finish line. Breaking goals down into smaller steps and parts is the key!

Posted on

Lauren Oxner

My school has been developing SMART goals for writing this year. I teach second grade and we started with very low percentages at the beginning and set our goals for smaller amounts of time. The data team I am part of meets about every two to three weeks to analyze our writing samples as well as our previous SMART goal to decide if we need to keep our goal or develop a new one based on new findings. This has been new for our school and I am not quite sure we are implementing the SMART goals the way they are intended. Should we have several goals within one subject that we work to achieve in smaller amounts of time or should we develop an overall SMART goal to work towards by the end of the year? I appreciate any information so I can share with my colleagues.

Posted on

Francois Masse

As a member of the crew from the Hulley Centre we have been working at implementing SMART ER goals in the collaborative teams we've been working with. The first four letters are of course: S for strategic and specific (that is aligned with the board and the state or province) measurable, attainable, results-oriented and time-bound. The last two letters refer to Extra Reach. As we write up a SMARTER goal, we try to include ALL students in order to track or measure their progress and success. Including all students means that 100% of students will be able to show progress at a certain level, another percentage at a higher level and even another percentage at a higher level. This way we can track all students and show growth for all throughout the learning period. For example :

In June of this school year, 100 % of our grade 3 students will succeed at level 3 in our (state or provincial) common reading and writing assessment and 80% of our student will have succeeded at level 5 on the same assessment.

The idea is to consider the gains in student achievement of all students.

Posted on