Student Growth Objectives: The Other Teacher Evaluation Tool

July 12, 2013

Evaluating New Jersey public school teachers using student test scores has gotten most of the political and parental attention. But where does that leave the majority of educators, who don't teach subjects evaluated by state exams, like language arts and math?

The state is scrambling to develop another mechanism to evaluate these teachers, called "student growth objectives" (SGOs). And officials hope to have them in place by next November 15, for all teachers, whether their specialty is phys ed, fine art, or physics.

Districts and teachers themselves have more than a little input in creating SGOs. One district, for example, might require teachers to demonstrate that three-quarters of their students show gains in a certain area. A teacher-developed SGO, meanwhile, may be unique to a specific subject and class.

Starting next year, all teachers will have at least one SGO if they are also measured by the results of state tests and a maximum of two. And the stakes aren’t small, with the SGO counting for up to 15 percent of an evaluation in the coming year.

But SGOs are proving as hard to develop as their more controversial counterparts based on student test scores, according to a handful of teachers led by the state teachers union who testified at the State Board of Education this week. Others said SGOs are just adding to the plethora of tests being given to students.

That message appears not to have been lost on the state, which is in the midst of 16 regional sessions more may be added to help districts and their teachers develop SGOs.

“All 100 slots have been filled for each one,” said Tim Matheney, the state Department of Education’s director of teacher evaluation. “That means in the end, there will be 1,600 educators whom we have given direct guidance to.”

Matheney said the sessions so far have been well-received, the most recent being in Neptune this week. “I think they are walking away with greater clarity and a feeling that SGOs are not something to be feared,” he said.

Beyond the in-person sessions, the state has been loading districts up with an array of resources about how to develop SGOs in each different field.

In the last two weeks, for instance, it link: guidance for developing SGOs] for arts and for special education teachers on its website. Videos and PowerPoint presentations also are available.

One example demonstrates how a physics teacher could build an SGO around how students fared on a test that includes both multiple choice and open-ended questions, including the task of building an apparatus and collecting data from it.

If 85 percent passed, it would be deemed “exceptional”; less than 55 percent would be “insufficient.”

State officials stressed that among the greatest values in the process may be teachers working with their supervisors when developing SGOs.

“The research is showing there is an inherent value in that collaboration,” said assistant commissioner Peter Shulman. “They are setting specific targets for their specific students’ needs.”

The board is currently in the final stages of signing off on new regulations that would put the teacher evaluation system into administrative code.