Set big goals [B-1]

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As we persistently focus our students and ourselves on the destination, whether it’s “80% mastery” or “a 265 scale score” or “1.5 grade levels,” we can sometimes forget the real meaning behind it. Once we lose sight of what it means, it's hard to be invested in it—and there’s not much point in having such a goal.

Any quantitative goal, whether it’s 80% mastery, 1.5 grade levels’ growth or a particular scale score, is a numerical proxy that ensures that our students are indeed learning the requisite skills and experiencing the academic success that will set them up for this path. But the number only develops real meaning (and becomes genuinely motivating to us and to our students) once we can translate it into a clear vision of academic success.


Ask yourself, “What will it look like if my students have achieved the goal by the end of the year? What skills and knowledge will they be able to demonstrate?” Spend time learning how to paint a clear picture of what success will look like. Most people cannot simply get this clear picture by simply perusing their learning goals—it can help to take and reflect on your end-of-year assessment, analyze student work samples, talk to colleagues and review curriculum guides.

Once you have a clear vision of what it will look like to achieve your goal, it will be easier for you and your students to maintain a single-minded focus and urgency throughout the year.


After examining our students’ contexts, we may find that find it appealing to pursue success on an exam that will increase students’ life opportunities but is not aligned to the course they are teaching (such as a High School Exit Exam that measures mastery of some components of algebra (your course) but also components of language arts, chemistry, biology, economics, geometry, U.S. history and world history).

Because of their lack of alignment, such exams are not appropriate methods for goal-setting. We must be careful not to base our big goals on success on such assessments if they are not adequately aligned to the learning goals that we are responsible for teaching.


You should consider using state exams or exams for which we have set national benchmarks, when possible. This is appealing because (a) it is a destination that is not only the measuring stick used to evaluate students beyond the walls of your own classroom, but it is an assessment that students (and your school) will already see as important and (b) it will contain items vetted by psychometricians, or experts in assessment creation. If there is no state exam for your state, encourage CMs to consider other state exams that may be appropriate.

For example, if there is not a physics test in your state and the AP test doesn’t seem appropriate, CMs could consider using the New York Regents’ Exam as a summative assessment that would represent meaningful achievement in physics.


We want all of our students to achieve on an absolute scale, so may set big goals such as “each and every student will obtain 80% or higher on the end-of-year exam” because we don’t want to leave any students out. However, after you obtain your diagnostic data, you may find that this goal is not feasible for each and every student, perhaps after you’ve already revealed the goal to them.


Instead, it may be wise to set a target that “students will average 80% mastery” or average a particular scale score. That way, you can better ensure that your differentiated goals (perhaps 90% for some, 80% for most, and, with careful consideration, 75% for others) are at the right intersection of ambitious and feasible for each and every student.


We want to make sure that our final assessments measure our prioritized learning goals, so we may scrap an well-respected, rigorous and overall great assessment, because it omits some of our learning goals. It’s important to note that some summative assessments do not allow students to demonstrate mastery on all of the major aspects of a course.

For example, a generally strong ELA exam may not offer students the opportunity to write a composition or a geometry exam might not ask students to construct a proof. We can be tempted to keep hunting for the World’s Most Perfect Exam—exhausting ourselves in the process, and potentially coming up empty handed.


It is not essential to ensure that every single learning goal is captured in your final assessment to determine success on the Big Goal. If this is the case, all is not lost. You may supplement a national or state exam with additional appropriate assessments. For example, you may supplement an otherwise strong ELA exam with a composition that will be graded on a state writing rubric.


We want the best for our students, so may set multiple goals to ensure that we’re holding ourselves accountable to their academic success in multiple ways.

We might set two types of goals to doubly ensure our students mastering the core content. For example, you know that your state test assesses all major components of your course and set a gap-reduction goal based on that assessment, but you may set an additional mastery goal that students will also master 80% of the learning goals based on another assessment.

Additionally, we may want to set classroom goals that are not directly related to the core content of the big goal. For example, as a fifth grade Language Arts teacher, you will most likely have a big goal that focuses on your students' reading growth and mastery of writing learning goals. That makes a lot of sense – those subjects are core to a language arts class. However, you may also set goals around attendance, spelling test averages, publishing a certain number of pieces in a class journal, or reading a certain number of books. These goals may take away from the focus of your core goals.

While all goals will lead students towards ambitious academic gains, the combination of goals may cause you and your students to lose focus. Having multiple goals simply adds hurdles for your students without changing the core content that you want them to master.


It isn't necessary to “overload” with goals. When you’re problem solving around what you need to do to meet your goal, it is more effective to focus on a single goal.

Once you’ve selected tools that measure the key components of your course, you do not need to add additional tools that measure the same things. If you have two or more viable assessments to measure achievement of the big goals, consider the one that seems most appropriate given your course content and meaningfulness.

You can also place types of goals in two categories: core and peripheral. Some goals are peripheral goals and are good to have for your students because they may enable important progress, but ultimately, they are secondary to your big goal.

It is important for you to clearly distinguish the most important things for your students to accomplish in a year so that you can maintain your primary focus on these.

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