SLOs in Layman’s Terms (?) and What to do with HS?

I’ve been stewing on SLOs since January when legislation dictated that value-added teachers (reading and math grades 4-8) would now be required (as of 2014-2015) to have 50% of their evaluation based on value-added.

I attended an SLO training in January, but left feeling….unsatisfied. So many of my questions were answered with “That’s an LEA” decision, and “We cannot answer that at this time,” that I could hardly get a clear idea of what I was supposed to tell my district.

I have struggled with the whys, whats, hows, whens, whos, and huhs? But ultimately, I’ve landed in “We do it because we have to” territory. I have to find the benefits and figure out a plan to meet the mandate–whether I think it’s adding to the work districts are already doing to meet new standards and all the other mandates we’re up against or running tangential to all those other mandates…

Here’s the positive I see (bear with me as I reach into my “obnoxiously optimistic” bag…): SLOs and the process of measuring growth, setting and achieving growth targets, and monitoring individual student’s abilities is a quantifiable method of showing academic growth on paper. Yes, the ultimate goal of education is that a student will grow each year, and the SLO writing and accomplishing process amounts to data that should show this growth (barring any and all other environmental factors that can influence or hinder a student’s ability to learn).

Let’s talk about what it takes to write an SLO…

SLOs are Student Learning Objectives. The only teachers who have to write them are those who are not value-added (non-4-8th grade reading and math teachers) and who do not use an assessment on ODE’s approved vendor list———-unless your district is lucky enough to have the funds to purchase a vendor assessment or has already been using one, then most teachers will be writing SLOs. Almost ALL high school teachers will be doing so.

To write an SLO, you need an SGM or Student Growth Measure. For 4-8th grade reading and math teachers, the OAA is the SGM. For teachers with approved vendor assessments, those are the SGM. For everyone else, they will have to create an SGM. In order for an SGM to show growth, it needs to be offered at the beginning and end of the school year, but to further complicate things, SLOs must be completed by MAY 1. This means you must give the end of year SGM in April in order to record data and come up with a score for eTPES.

What does it take to write an SGM? To answer this, we’ll have to visit curriculum land. Keep in mind that we’re operating on a limited timeline, so while it may seem like this list speeds through the essentials needed to do this work well, we’re not being given time to do it exceptionally well; we have enough time to do it adequately and revise as we go…

To write a SGM assessment that is aligned to the new content standards, you may need to provide some assessment writing PD in the following:
1. Depth of Knowledge–to help ensure the level of questions will prepare students for the level of questions on new assessments. Note: Almost all OAA/OGT questions were levels 1 and 2; most PARCC questions will be 3 and 4.
2. Selection of course’s Power Standards–what are the most important standards for students to reach? These power standards will be the focus of your SGM.
3. PARCC “training”–Again, these SGMs should prepare students for new assessments. ELA and math will be PARCC tests, and Ohio’s tests in science and social studies are being made to mirror the PARCC models. Use these as a reference for designing the SGMs.
4. Assessment blueprint–Teachers should outline what % of questions on the SGM will be from each of the power standards and what % will be additional other standards. They should also outline what % of questions will be from each of the depth of knowledge levels.
5. Once the assessment blueprint is complete teachers could either create item banks from which an SGM could be created, or they could create the SGM itself.

Baseline: At the beginning of the school year, teachers will need to administer the pre- SGM test. (Due to time constraints, I think using the same pre- and post- SGM test at the beginning of the year and in April is really the best we can do!) The scores on this pre-test give us a “baseline,” or student’s starting points.

If you are lucky enough to be using an SGM you have used in previous years (whether a vendor or teacher-created), you will have trend data, which allows you to see the trends of growth; therefore you have some idea of how much you can expect students to grow. If Susie scores a 40% on the pre-assessment, and you have years of trend data showing that most students who score a 40% at the beginning average about 20% growth, then you know you can predict Susie will score a 60% on the post-assessment in April. Trend data allows you to have a better estimate for how students will do.

If you don’t have access to that kind of data, or if you’re using a new assessment, you’re pretty much left to guess in the dark. But somehow, you have to come up with a growth target that shows where you expect students to be at the end of the year. Apparently, for 2013-2014, teachers can revise their SLO growth target at mid-year, so maybe that will help with estimating appropriate targets when trend data is not available….not sure.

Regardless, the teacher’s ability to reach those growth targets is what ultimately determines his/her score on the student growth side of OTES. So, if they meet (their students meet) 90% of the growth targets, they get a certain score. If they meet 80% of targets, they meet a lower score, and so on…..This score is then identified on the OTES matrix along with the holistic performance rubric rating to figure out the year’s rating:


HOW MANY OF THESE DO WE HAVE TO DO!?!?!?!?!?! Clearly, there’s a lot of work going in to setting these up. Teachers who have to write SLOs are required to write 2 of them for next year. Here’s what I recommend for high school teachers (who teach tons of different classes)….

1. Have teachers write a course-level SLO in the “big courses” like English 9, 10, 11, Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, Physical Science, Bio, Chem, World Hist, Amer Hist, Government, Spanish 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. By writing a course-level SLO, all teachers of the same course share the SGM data for all students in the course. This will also cover many high school teachers.

2. Have teachers write a second, more targeted SLO for a specific period of that course or a small group of students within the course. So, they will have an English 9 SLO for all kids taking English 9 AND an English 9 period 2 SLO for a specific group of kids. By writing the course level SLO, teachers can use that to set the growth target (should be the same target) for their period of students.

For your singleton teachers (ex. a world language or business class), I first recommend looking to surrounding schools to allow them to collaborate with other teachers. When this is not possible, have them write two SLOs as outlined above for their two biggest courses.

For specials teachers, there are a lot of consortiums forming to look at creating quality performance assessments and writing SLOs that can span districts. Look into these before considering solo-teacher-created SGMs.

I hope…..I hope, I hope, I hope to see some sort of value come out of all of this. I think the timing is wrong, the focus is wrong, the rationale is wrong for this kind of work right now, but if we can just “get through” this time crunch and spend time learning how to respond to data from the SGMs, we’ll figure out how to make SLOs work for us.


5 thoughts on “SLOs in Layman’s Terms (?) and What to do with HS?

  1. Some of the things i dislike about the implementation of this idea….
    1) testing at the beginning of the year…because the first days back from summer should show student what the course is about (obviously it is testing & gathering data for the State)
    2) end of course assessment done in April – so I have to teach a whole years worth of content in 30 weeks, not 36…..then what do we do for “extra” 6 weeks?
    3) how many hours will this testing take away from learning time…PARCC says 10 hours per course (I am assuming they mean 4 x 2 1/2 hr tests)…so there goes another 2 weeks of learning time
    4) Power standards???? if they aren’t important why are they on the list?


    • Great thoughts here…here’s a couple responses

      1. The pre-assessment isn’t for a grade. Think of it like your typical formative pre-assessment. You want to know what the kids already know when they come to you so you’re not spending lots of time reteaching things they can already do (= boredom and disengaged kids). It shouldn’t be testing for the state; it should be seen as testing for your course. This is where it gets challenging to show growth with your advanced kids because if they come in and get a 100% on your pre assessment, you have to raise their growth; it can’t be a wasted year just because they’re advanced.

      2. I agree with you on the timeline, and I think “a year of growth” should be a year of growth. My understanding is that you write your SLO target with the idea that it is just over 3/4 of the way through the year. The expectation is you will continue to teach to get students to a full year, but for the purposes of an SLO, you should have a 3/4 year target (whatever that looks like for each child).

      3. I agree with you on the time component as well. I think we are spending an atrocious amount of time testing kids. The only positive spin I can put on pre and post assessments is they could, effectively, save you time if you find out kids already know something that you have been assuming they don’t know. Again,use the pre assessment as a formative tool, not an “in addition to” meaningless assessment.

      4. All standards are not created equal. Did you know that in American math courses we teach 100% of our standards at only a depth of 1″, but in China they teach 50% of their standards in extreme depth. That’s why they outperform on Iternational math assessments. Choosing power standards doesn’t mean to disregard the others, but it means finding the ones that are most essential to the learning in that grade and teaching them in depth. The common core standards are all about focus; we should focus on the standards that have the greatest bang for their buck (power standards).

      Thanks for your comment! This is challenging work for everyone


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