In 2013, as the new evaluation system was introduced, teachers across the state were struggling to learn not only a new language of evaluation models and rubrics, but also to wrap their brains around the concept of student achievement measures as part of teacher evaluation. With that came a new term: student growth objectives, also known as SGOs.
Figuring out a way to measure student progress that could be translated into a teacher rating ranging from a 1-4 provided a challenge, and so many school districts got it wrong that the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) provided an appeals process for anyone whose SGO score caused them a less than effective rating in 2013-14.
In the second year of AchieveNJ, the NJDOE added the concept of tiered goal setting for SGOs. This allows teachers to take into consideration that students arrive at the beginning of the year with assorted levels of preparation for a particular course. Once again, compliance often took precedence over reflecting on the value of setting differentiated goals.
That brings us to 2015-16. Having developed a sense of how the scoring of SGOs works, and how to check off the boxes of compliance, the time had come for teachers to hone their practice and develop SGOs that better reflected the work they actually did each day in the classroom.
Now, in 2016-17, we continue to develop SGOs that are seamlessly infused into our classrooms.
The NJDOE continues to emphasize that SGOs should be student-centered, teacher-developed and administrator-supported. Teachers should have the ability and the consent of their administrators to create SGOs that are based on the instruction they deliver over the course of the year. This means focusing on teacher-created assessments rather than published ones that rarely reflect the kind of teaching and learning students are exposed to during the school year. It also opens the possibility for authentic assessment in the forms of portfolios or performance tasks.
A comprehensive portfolio of products that are indicative of the work students have produced over the course of the year is a perfectly acceptable way to construct an SGO. With a portfolio, there is no need to waste valuable class time in taking and scoring yet another test. The portfolio is also a much more authentic measure of the progress that students have made.
A second possibility is the use of a performance-based assessment. Having a student show what they have learned through a project, report or performance of some other task embedded in the curriculum can yield a more realistic assessment of a student’s ability to synthesize the material taught and its use in a real-world setting.
In using a portfolio or performance task, however, both teacher and supervisor need to be clear in the development of the SGO and of exactly what will be expected of students and how it will be scored. In the spring, both the teacher and supervisor must have the same understanding of how the SGO has been administered during the year.
Creating an SGO that is embedded in the work teachers already do can make for a far more meaningful and manageable situation for teachers, administrators and students alike.
Rich Wilson is an NJEA associate director of professional development and instructional issues. Contact him below.