SMART Goals Improve Data‑Driven Decision Making

September 29, 2017 |

In Raising Blended Learners (RBL), we define a data culture as when a district sees data as more than simply an accountability measure but rather a way to better inform instruction, and teachers are motivated to use that data better to inform teaching and learning.

We consider it to be an essential element of any classroom, school, network or district of schools seeking to provide a rigorous, student-centered blended learning experience for students. For all of the RBL sites, setting and measuring progress against and evolving their SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, Time-bound) goals in year 1 was the first step to realizing the importance and the magnitude of developing a data culture.

The goals that each RBL site set align with the problem they are trying to solve and the student experience design pillars they are implementing. Because each problem statement and set of student experience design pillars are unique to each site, their goals are unique as well. Each site has defined student achievement according to the goals and priorities most important to their students. For example, one team might set the goal of raising overall scores on the STAAR test by a specific percentage within three years. Another might focus on lowering high school dropout rates or accelerating literacy among English Language Learners. Another might target college readiness, as measured by composite ACT scores or pass rates on Advanced Placement exams.

To fully measure the impact of their efforts, it has been essential for demonstration sites to set both academic and nonacademic SMART goals. In addition to goals targeting specific academic outcomes, sites have set goals related to student engagement, motivation, and agency which are critical to college and career success. These may include measures such as increased attendance rates, student survey responses indicating greater enthusiasm and engagement, reductions in discipline referrals, or observation of increases in students’ self-confidence. Others include teacher development goals around increasing instructional rigor in student-centered blended learning classrooms measured through coaching cycles. The identification of SMART goals allows the cross-functional, vertical district teams to come together around a focused set of objectives.

After this first year of rapid prototyping, it has been important for our sites to use this SMART goal process to measure the impact of their pilots over time and to become more proficient on how data can and should drive practice when evaluating an innovation as a part of a constantly improving cycle. Who to include in the process of defining SMART goals is also important to ensure that there is buy-in from the classroom to the district level. Here is an audio clip of the Point Isabel ISD Project Manager reflecting on the lessons learned about the importance of involving School Leaders in setting SMART Goals. To that end, what is most interesting to share beyond SMART goal results are the initial reflections about whether sites: a) created SMART Goals that accurately and comprehensively measure the evidence of their pilot’s impact, b) what new impact measures emerged during the initial year of piloting and how those match with emerging national best practice, c) what new routines and procedures developed as new cultures focused on data-driven learning in the classroom and data-driven decision-making at the district level.

All of the RBL sites have a finite set of resources to redesign the teaching and learning environment to serve their students better. As they redefine environments, they must become highly proficient at using data to make tradeoffs which inform the reallocation of time, capacity, resources, etc. Therefore, for all of the RBL sites, the process of looking at interim data to evaluate impact, and reflecting on areas for improvement as a part of the rapid prototyping process was as valuable as setting the goals themselves. It contributed to strengthening sites’ capacity for data-driven decisionmaking necessary to transform district and school structures to allow a data culture to take root. Here is a video of the Birdville, ISD Project Manager reflecting on how the SMART Goal process brought cross-departmental leadership to the table that resulted in necessary changes to fundamental elements of the way that the district designs and supports literacy.


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