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Building a technology infrastructure for student learning objectives

Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) are gaining ground as a way to improve student achievement at the classroom level. An SLO is a measurable academic goal for a student or a group of students that is focused on the most important course content. It is set at the beginning of a course, usually based on a student’s baseline performance, and student progress toward the goal is tracked through formative assessment. At the end of the instructional interval, the student is assessed through summative assessment.

SLOs are designed to measure a teacher’s impact on student learning within a given interval of instruction. In many states, SLOs are being used in educator evaluations. The number of students who meet or exceed the stated objective is used to calculate an effectiveness rating, which is then used as one of several measures for the educator’s performance evaluation.

While many states and districts devote a great deal of time and resources to developing SLOs, few think about creating a technology infrastructure or managing the tasks that must be accomplished to implement thousands of SLOs with fidelity.

To prepare for a full-scale SLO implementation, districts need a robust technology platform and data infrastructure that can:

• Manage assessments and data. With one baseline assessment and one summative assessment for each course — and multiple teachers per course — districts must manage, analyze and report on hundreds or thousands of unique assessments. A data system that can house this information in a relational database and provide an intuitive user interface is essential for this volume of information management.

• Manage data associations. Each SLO is associated with a baseline — measured by a pre-assessment — and a student growth target — measured by a post-assessment. A growth algorithm connects the two and identifies the percent change or static percentage point increase required to meet the SLO. To ensure pre- and post-assessments are compatible and aligned for growth, an SLO technology platform should allow educators to easily view assessments and their attributes side by side, match items based on content and rigor, and apply or customize growth algorithms.

• Streamline processes. Since assessments may be administered in different ways, district data systems should allow for plain paper and selected response scanning and online testing to ensure scores are automatically available for analysis. For external assessments such as state tests, the system should also be able to load results in multiple formats — including XML, API or a common flat file layout.

The relational database housing the assessment results should have an administrative interface that provides access to individual student data points as well as SLO metadata — the growth algorithm, students included in the SLO population, baseline scores, and derived target scores. Further, the technology system should roll up student results into a final SLO score for each educator and integrate this score into multi-measure evaluations, producing a final evaluation rating.

• Establish an audit trail. An SLO system utilized in educator evaluation must be legally defensible, so a district’s data infrastructure should facilitate accurate record keeping. To ensure data integrity, all administrative actions with SLO attributes should be logged. When educators submit SLOs to their evaluator for approval and when they meet at mid-interval, there should be an audit trail showing that rosters have been validated, and assessments, algorithms and targets have been approved. Further, changes to any SLO attributes should be logged with a username and timestamp.

• Create SLO-level compliance reports. A data system should also provide options for creating SLO-level compliance reports for educators. These reports allow for spot-checking to ensure SLOs are being approved in a timely way, are aligned to targeted content, and are rigorous for all student populations.

Implementing an SLO initiative across a school system is a complex endeavor. Properly managed, SLOs can energize a focus on learning, raise student achievement, and promote growth in professional practice. With a robust technology platform and data infrastructure, districts can accurately manage the volume of assessments and data associations, streamline administration while maximize personnel time and resources, and produce the information necessary for compliance reporting and SLO auditing.

Kimberly Fleming began her career as a secondary English language arts teacher in Howard County, Md., and then professional development schools coordinator for Prince George’s County Public Schools in Md.. She later worked for the Maryland State Department of Education in the Department of Program Approval. Fleming is currently the president and founder of Core Education, LLC, a consulting firm focused on educator effectiveness. She is the author of a new white paper titled, “Technology Considerations for a Successful Student Learning Objectives Program.”