New Study Corroborates State SLO Plans

ctaclogo-2008From the press release by the Boston-based Community Training and Assistance Center:

As states and school districts increasingly use Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) in high stakes teacher evaluation and compensation systems to measure student academic growth, a new five-year study reports that high quality SLOs do improve teaching and bolster student growth.

The national SLO momentum has resulted in part because states and school districts receiving federal Race to the Top funding and federal waivers must include student academic growth as part of teacher evaluation. The problem has been fairness—that is, how to fairly measure student growth for all teachers, especially when only 20-25% of subjects and grades are covered by state tests. SLOs help solve this by providing a means of measuring growth that is not dependent on state tests and can incorporate multiple measures of student learning.

But until now only one other major study— CTAC’s evaluation of SLOs in Denver in 2004—has comprehensively examined the impact of SLOs on student achievement and teacher practice.

The new study, It’s More Than Money, conducted by the Community Training and Assistance Center (CTAC), analyzed 4,000 teacher-developed SLOs as part of a performance-based compensation initiative implemented from 2007-2012 in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in North Carolina.

The initiative was supported by a U.S. Department of Education Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant. It focused on improving student achievement and educator effectiveness in a select group of 20 high need schools. Key measures determining educator bonuses were SLOs and a Value Added Measure (VAM).

Overall, the study found that students of teachers with student learning objectives had growth rates significantly higher than students in a group of comparison district schools. This, despite the disruptions of recession-prompted budget cutting as well as turnover in school and district leadership.

While many factors beyond incentive pay contributed to this success, the most notable positive correlations link student growth to teachers’ use of SLOs. Early on, CMS leaders perceived the value of using the TIF initiative as a lever for making systemic changes—for example, for shifting emphasis from student proficiency to support and accountability for student growth—and SLOs supported that change in mindset and attendant organizational shifts.

In effect, SLOs put CMS teachers in charge of analyzing their practice in relation to student growth. As that happened, multiple elements of the system needed to be realigned to better provide the support that teachers identified as required for them to improve their knowledge and instructional skills.

Key SLO findings. The CMS analysis corroborates and expands on findings from the Denver study, which was also conducted by CTAC. It finds that:

SLOs lead to statistically significant student gains in mathematics and reading. There is a positive, statistically significant association between students reaching the SLO learning target set by the teacher and student achievement academic growth. In math, on average, the growth rate over a 3-year period for students in the TIF schools is 12% greater than students in comparable district schools. In reading, on average, the 3-year growth rate is 13% greater.

SLO quality is key. The higher the quality of a teacher’s SLO, the greater the likelihood that student academic growth objectives will be met. This statistically significant, positive association was found in elementary school math and reading as well as in middle school math.

Teachers grow annually in their ability to develop quality SLOs. Year by year, teachers develop higher quality SLOs and more of their students reach growth targets. The relationship between quality and years of SLO teacher practice is statistically significant.

SLO success correlates with VAM findings. Only teachers of tested subjects received a VAM score. The subset of those teachers who received a VAM bonus is more likely to have high quality SLOs.

“These findings are exciting because they show that SLOs help more teachers do a better job with more students,” says William J. Slotnik, executive director of CTAC and co-study author. “The CTAC study shows that quality SLOs are an effective means of tying teacher practice to student learning. That makes the case for including SLOs in educator evaluation and compensation systems. But careful attention must be paid to defining and supporting SLO quality.” As our report title indicates, meaningful reform is about more than money.

The findings also show that bonus pay matters to teachers but is less important to them than the support provided to improve their practice. “The teachers value the support they’ve received to think differently about planning and individualizing instruction, especially through the SLO process,” says CTAC senior associate and report co-author Maribeth Smith.

For a copy of the CTAC report, It’s More Than Money, go to: