Building a Technology Infrastructure for Student Learning Objectives

As schools open for the 2013-2014 school year, one of the new acronyms on the lips of many education professionals is SLO. SLOs, or Student Learning Objectives, are an alternative to standardized testing that can demonstrate student, as well as teacher, growth and progress. SLOs have been mandated in many states and districts in order to comply with federal guidelines for Race to the Top and/or NCLB waivers. Dr. Kim Fleming of Core Education, LLC, has written a new post about how SLOs can be effectively implemented this year with the help of technology.

Similar to what has taken place with Common Core and implementing testing for Common Core, Fleming argues that “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.” In other words, it is just as essential to record and follow up on SLOs as it is to develop them in the first place.

Fleming makes five key recommendations for districts and states as they “prepare for a full-scale SLO implementation.” Each district needs 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 SLOs for this first year will, no doubt, be a significant challenge for teachers, administrators, and district leaders, but Fleming reminds readers that “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.”

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