The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Student Growth Objectives

As a result of new legislation regarding education and teacher evaluation in Illinois, our building, along with our entire district and, hopefully, most of the state, has been working on establishing Student Growth Objectives that are used to guide instruction and give teachers a focus on at least one area of assessment throughout the year. There is a lot of “teacherese” built into this legislation, which is, of course, also mixed with “legalese,” making the overall goal difficult for non-teachers and non-politicians to unpack. In fact, they are difficult for teachers to unpack only because the language is new and unfamiliar, even within our profession.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time delving into the nitty-gritty of Student Growth Objectives (also known as SGOs, because we don’t have enough acronyms in our profession yet), but if you are interested there are some blogs that I personally recommend, especially Dr. Rich Voltz’s Ed Leadership Thoughts, which I found through my mum, who is a long-time school board member in Washington, Illinois, where I grew up. What I do want to acknowledge is the amazing growth my students have already made this year on the objective my fourth grade partner and I selected.

We looked over all of our learning standards and talked about the crucial skills that the fifth grade teachers have said the students must have in order to be ready for the next year. In the process of these conversations, we realised that many of our math standards tie into each other and the one skill that will tie directly to nearly all of the others in mutli-digit multiplication, specifically learning the two-digit by two-digit vertical algorithm (that is, the traditional way to multiply two two-digit numbers that almost all of us learned when we were in school).

In order to measure growth, we had to know where the students were at the start, so we developed a simple ten-problem quiz using a tool from math-aids.com and gave the quiz to all of our students. Of the 48 students we had at the time, only one student knew how to solve problems like these, and that student scored a 70%. Keep in mind that we had not done any teaching of this skill yet. The initial quiz was to determine where they were. Then we started teaching the unit, sometimes working with our own classes, sometimes by mixing the classes up into differentiated groups. There was a lot of teaching, practicing, teaching more, practicing more, and quick quizzes and assessments along the way to let us know what we still needed to do and who still needed more specialised help.

By the end of the first semester we had spent weeks on this skill (while teaching a lot of other things, too, of course) and decided it was time for a mid-year assessment. There was considerable growth, with about a third of the students scoring 80% or better and another third very close to the target. Time continued on, we continued to teach this skill along with other topics, and we continued to assess as we went along.

I gave my class another ten-question quiz today, much like the one we used at the beginning of the year, and was thrilled beyond words to see the noticeable growth in my students! I still have some who are struggling to master the algorithm, but many, many, many more not only know it, but can use it accurately and consistently! With slightly more than a quarter of the year left to go, I am feeling very confident about this skill. I don’t know that I will use the same growth objective next year due to some logistical problems, but I do feel more comfortable with setting growth objectives for each student and using these as a guide to improve my teaching practice.

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