Student Learning Objectives: Making Sense of SLOs

by Natalie Barnes

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What are SLOs?

In accordance with grant programs such as Race to the Top, states are developing teacher evaluation systems to determine teacher-effectiveness. Students’ standardized test scores are often used to measure teacher effectiveness. However, standardized test scores are not “available or appropriate for all teachers and subjects,” according to a document put out by the U.S. Department of Education describing how states use student learning objectives in teacher evaluation systems. States can choose their own ways to evaluate teachers and Maryland has chosen to use Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) as part of their evaluation.

According to the Prince George’s County Public Schools Student Learning Objective Handbook, the state of Maryland has defined a Student Learning Objective (SLO) as “A specific, rigorous, long-term goal for groups of students that educators create to guide their instruction and administrative efforts.” The handbook continues, stating “Although SLOs contribute to the Student Growth component of the overall evaluation in Prince George’s County Public Schools, they are best utilized as an instructional tool. SLOs are a meaningful approach to measuring student learning because they enable teachers to determine the focus of instruction and how student learning will be measured. SLOs are not an “additional” task, but SLOs are designed for teachers to ‘formally’ monitor what they are already doing in the classroom on a daily basis.”

Essentially, two SLOs are created by each teacher and administrator. (A third district SLO is drafted by the Office of Curriculum and Instruction for high school teachers who are responsible for Biology, English 10, Algebra I, Algebra II, and Government (HSSA) courses in the previous year.) Each SLO states the goal that teacher or administrator has for his or her students during the year. The results are a portion of the teacher’s final evaluation score. Student growth measures are 50% of teacher evaluations. For teachers who teach content areas with state assessment data, the SLOs are 30% of the student growth measures while for teachers without state assessment data, the SLOs are 35% of their final evaluations score.

How does a teacher make an SLO?

  1. From September to mid-October, all students take a pre-test. For a vast majority of courses, this assessment is provided by the county. For a select few courses, such as dance, TV production, and instrumental music, the teacher must create his or her own assessments, which must be supervisor-approved.
  2. The teacher reviews the students’ data from the pre-test as well as other historical/trend data. According to the Prince George’s County Public Schools Student Learning Objective Handbook, this could be:
    • Initial performance for current interval of instruction (writing samples, student interest surveys, pre-assessments etc.)
    • Student scores on previous state standardized assessments
    • Results from other standardized and non-standardized assessments
    • SLO Pre- and Post-Assessment from previous year
    • Report cards from previous years
    • Results from diagnostic assessments
    • Artifacts from previous learning
    • Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans for students with identified and documented special needs
    • Data related to ELL students and gifted students
    • Attendance records
    • Student behavior data
  3. The teacher determines an area of focus. This should be focused around a specific topic or standard (e.g. Common Core Standards for Math or Language Arts). It is important that it be a standard central to the course.
  4. The teacher chooses at least ten students for the SLO roster.
  5. The teacher sets a goal for each student.  This could be the same for all of the selected students or different for each student.
  6. The teacher determines at least two instructional strategies he or she will utilize to help students meet the SLO goal.
  7. The teacher selects at least two monitoring tools to collect data throughout the year to inform instruction.
  8. By the October deadline (originally the 24th and now the 31st), the teacher reports the names and scores of each student to their administrator and the county.
  9. By the November deadline (now the 5th), the advisor approves the SLO and it is locked.
  10. Throughout the school year, the teacher plans and delivers lessons as well as collects intermediate data to chart students’ progress, utilizing the instructional strategies and monitoring tools he or she described in the SLO.
  11. From January 2nd to mid-February, students are given the post-test.
  12. By the spring deadline (currently February 27th), the teacher reports the students’ final score to the county.  The county’s online data entry system determines whether the target has been met or not met. Teachers also document students who have withdrawn or had a 20% or higher absentee rate so they will will not be counted in the final calculation.

The SLO score is then calculated based on the number of students who met the target. The Prince George’s County Public Schools Student Learning Objective Handbook provides the following example:

If one SLO has 25 students on the roster, and 5 are ‘challenged’ due to withdrawal or excessive absenteeism (documented during SLO closeout), only 20 students will count toward that SLO score. If 15 of the remaining students met the target and 5 students did not, then 75% (or .75) of the students met the target. For Category 1 and 2 teachers, SLOs constitute 30% toward the Student Growth Measures (each SLO 15%). Therefore, the calculation would be .75 x 15 to equal a score of 11.25 for one of the two SLOs. The calculation above applies also to Category 3 teachers, but the SLOs constitute 35% of the Student Growth Measures (each SLO 17.5%) for Category 3. The calculation would be .75 x 17.5 to equal a score of 13.125 for one of the two SLOs.


For more information, see the PGCPS Teacher SLO Handbook 2018-2019.

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