The Five Pillars of Success in the Student Learning Objective Process

This Arti­cle was writ­ten by WASCD Board Mem­bers:
Susie Prather, Prin­ci­pal, Hud­son Prairie Ele­men­tary
David Gram­bow, Asso­ciate Direc­tor of Learn­ing Ser­vices, Hud­son School Dis­trict

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared in the Spring/​Summer 2013 issue of WASCD’s Members-​only
print Pub­li­ca­tion, the High­lighter. To learn more about WASCD mem­ber­ship, click here.

Edu­ca­tors across the state of Wis­con­sin will be faced with the chal­lenge and oppor­tu­nity of devel­op­ing qual­ity Stu­dent Learn­ing Out­comes (SLOs) to improve stu­dent learn­ing. Research demon­strates that achieve­ment is enhanced to the degree that teach­ers set chal­leng­ing, rather than “do your best” goals, rel­a­tive to the stu­dents’ present com­pe­ten­cies. There is a direct lin­ear rela­tion­ship between the degree of goal dif­fi­culty and per­for­mance (Locke & Latham, 1990). The SLO process has the great­est impact on stu­dent learn­ing when teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors set rig­or­ous yet attain­able goals, use data to exam­ine the effec­tive­ness of class­room prac­tices, and col­lab­o­rate on teach­ing and learning.

We are all faced with the same chal­lenge: How can we pro­vide high lev­els of sup­port in the SLO process to fos­ter increased expec­ta­tions and account­abil­ity? In grap­pling with this ques­tion we need to exam­ine sup­port sys­tems cur­rently in place. The Hud­son School Dis­trict has devel­oped sup­ports with a dis­trict level Learn­ing Ser­vices Depart­ment, prin­ci­pals as instruc­tional lead­ers, teacher lead­ers, and instruc­tional coaches; all sup­ported through high qual­ity Pro­fes­sional Learn­ing Communities.

Five pil­lars of suc­cess have allowed us to con­struct a frame­work for suc­cess­ful devel­op­ment and imple­men­ta­tion of SLOs. These pil­lars: col­lab­o­ra­tion, risk free rigor, SMART Goal align­ment, sys­tem sup­ports, and well-​developed processes can guide a district’s blue­print for qual­ity SLO implementations.


Col­lab­o­ra­tion is key in the SLO process. We all rec­og­nize the value of col­lab­o­ra­tion and the pos­i­tive impact on stu­dent per­for­mance. Col­lab­o­ra­tive goal set­ting, ded­i­cated PLC time, and sup­port from the lead­ers in the Dis­trict mit­i­gates com­pe­ti­tion and ensures the SLOs are writ­ten with stu­dent per­for­mance in mind.

Risk Free Rigor

We need to sup­port teach­ers in their under­stand­ing of the need to set rig­or­ous yet attain­able goals based on stu­dent needs. We need to ensure that our process allows teach­ers the free­dom to aspire to con­tin­ual growth. Risk free rigor is our goal.

SMART Goal alignment

Many dis­tricts employ the SMART goal process to ensure that dis­trict, school, team and class­room goals are spe­cific, mea­sur­able, attain­able, results based, and time bound. The SLOs should be devel­oped fol­low­ing the SMART goal prin­ci­ples. Addi­tion­ally, SLOs can be aligned to exist­ing SMART goals to help con­nect the dots between the many initiatives.

System Supports

The SLO process can­not exist exclu­sively at the class­room level. The entire K-​12 sys­tem must embrace the poten­tial power and ben­e­fit of uti­liz­ing Stu­dent Learn­ing Objec­tives. This should be demon­strated through ded­i­cated pro­fes­sional learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, teacher leader train­ing and align­ment of sup­ports such as instruc­tional coach­ing and PLC protocols.

Well-developed processes

DPI out­lines a four step process for the devel­op­ment of SLOs. Each step presents a dis­tinct oppor­tu­nity to col­lab­o­ra­tively sup­port teach­ers in the SLO process.

Step 1- Prepare the Student Learning Outcome (SLO)

We believe the prepa­ra­tion of SLOs presents the great­est oppor­tu­nity for col­lab­o­ra­tive sup­port. To do this, we need a dif­fer­en­ti­ated pro­fes­sional learn­ing plan for a K-​12 sys­tem that includes an overview of the SLO process and per­son­al­ized learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, includ­ing the devel­op­ment of effec­tive assess­ments, data col­lec­tion, SLO dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, and the imple­men­ta­tion of best prac­tices and strate­gies. As part of the DPI pilot, we spent a con­sid­er­able time in Pro­fes­sional Learn­ing Com­mu­ni­ties devel­op­ing the SLO, rubric, and ana­lyz­ing base­line data to develop a rig­or­ous, yet attain­able SLO. The Wis­con­sin DPI’s SLO Selection/ Approval Rubric effec­tively sup­ported our SLO development.

Step 2- Submit SLO for Approval

SLO approval meet­ings with the teacher and prin­ci­pal were sched­uled. The approval process is more than a “rub­ber stamp” oppor­tu­nity. The approval process is the ideal time to explore oppor­tu­ni­ties for the prin­ci­pal to offer direct sup­port to the teacher. This may also be an oppor­tu­nity to iden­tify teach­ers with sim­i­lar goals who may be of sup­port to one another.

Step 3- Collect Evidence and Midyear Review

It is imper­a­tive that teach­ers con­tinue to focus and reflect on their SLOs if we are going to ensure this process does not become a hoop through which to jump. The Midyear Review is not meant to be the time in which we sum­mar­ily lower expec­ta­tions of goals that were set ear­lier. Instead, reflec­tive ques­tions should be employed to lead to a deeper under­stand­ing of the SLO process and the poten­tial impact on stu­dent learning.

Ques­tions could include:

        • What is going well?
        • What are some chal­lenges you are facing?
        • What trends do you see in your data?
        • What are the strengths?
        • What are the areas of concern?

This is also an ideal time to dis­cuss spe­cific stu­dent data.

Ques­tions could include:

        • Which stu­dents are not meet­ing your expectations?
        • Why do you sus­pect they are not meet­ing their expectations?
        • What might we include as spe­cific actions to sup­port these individuals?

Step 4- Review and Score the Student Learning Outcome

The end of the year con­fer­ence in May should con­tinue to be a sup­port­ive con­ver­sa­tion where col­lab­o­ra­tive dis­cus­sions revolve around the SLO and the data collected.

Some guid­ing ques­tions could include:

        • How did the SLO process work for you?
        • What was the impact for your students?
        • What was the impact on you as an educator?
        • What trends did you notice?

We firmly believe the SLO process is the ele­ment of any edu­ca­tor effec­tive­ness frame­work that offers the great­est oppor­tu­nity for stu­dent learn­ing improve­ment and pro­fes­sional learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. Take a moment to reflect on a sce­nario where every K-​12 stu­dent in the great state of Wis­con­sin is sup­ported by teach­ers who set rig­or­ous stu­dent learn­ing goals in a sys­tem that is sup­ported at the state, dis­trict, school and class­room level. This is the promise of the SLO process that we can make a reality.

Dave Gram­bow and Susie Prather pre­sented a ses­sion on SLO Peer Coach­ing in mid-​April at the WASCD Sym­po­sium on Enhanc­ing Teach­ing and Learn­ing Through the SLO Process. They will be lead­ing an SLO Writing Workshop at the WASCD Annual Conference in Apple­ton on Wednes­day late after­noon, Octo­ber 2, 2013.

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