Setting Goals for Student Achievement

In my current position as a math interventionist, I work with struggling students in grades K-5.  It goes without saying that the students I see in grades 3-5 are at risk for not being successful on the state test they will take in the Spring.  I’ve attended a number of professional development sessions over the past couple of years that stressed the need to have students involved in tracking their own data and setting goals for achievement.  This past week, I began the process with my students.  This should actually have been done in the fall, but better late than never.

First, let me give you a rundown of the data we used for this activity. I wanted to use the data that would be the best predictor of success on the STAAR test, so we didn’t use classroom grades.  There are too many factors involved in classroom grades for them to be a strong predictor for STAAR.  Over the course of the year, however, our students have the opportunity to take several assessments that mirror the STAAR test, so these are the assessments I decided to use.  Some of these assessments are developed at the district level. We call them DLAs, which stands for District Learning Assessments. We also recently gave a STAAR Benchmark test which, in effect, was a practice STAAR test.  Because our DLAs are short (15 questions or so), we felt it was important for our students to experience a test that was the same length and rigor of the test they’ll take in April (46-50 questions…don’t get me started…). In addition, we have previous STAAR results for our 4th and 5th grade students, if they were in Texas and took the tests.  I will reference these tests as I discuss our process.

I started with a story about running a marathon.  I explained that a marathon is a 26-mile race and that people take up to a year to train for one.  I told the students that in order to train for a marathon you have to set goals and make a plan, and that the goals and plan depend on my starting point.

What if I tell you that right now I can only run 1 mile.  If I can only run 1 mile right now, what might be a reasonable goal for me to set for the distance I want to be able to run 2 weeks from now? (I got some pretty interesting answers to this question that were definitely a formative assessment for reasonableness!)  Two miles?  Sure!  I think if I can run 1 mile right now, I should be able to reach 2 miles in a couple of weeks.

Now, what if I tell you that I’m already running 5 miles four times a week?  If I’m already running 5 miles four times a week, I’m a pretty strong runner.  What might be a reasonable goal for me to reach in 2 weeks?  Seven or eight miles? I think 7 or 8 miles is pretty reasonable.  Because I’m already a pretty strong runner, I might make quicker progress.

The point is that you have to look at where you are right now before you can set goals.  That’s why we’re going to take a look at how you’ve done on some of the tests you’ve already taken and then set a goal for what you want to score on the next DLA.  

Now remember, if I just set a goal–I want to be able to run 2 miles in two weeks–but I don’t actually go out and run, I probably won’t reach my goal.  So we’re also going to decide on three action steps you can take to reach your goal.  For example, I might say I’m going to run 4 days a week, I’m going to cut down on fast food and eat healthier, and I’m going to get at least 7 hours of sleep at night.  Do you see how doing each of those things might help me reach my goal of being able to run 2 miles two weeks from now? Good! Let’s get started!

We used a very plain graph, which you can download here.  I worked graphing skills into the activity by having the students add a title to their graph and figure out and add the missing numbers on the graph scale.  Then, I told the students their scores for the previous tests, and they graphed them.  I have to tell you that seeing the scores came as quite a shock to some of the kiddos.  I think we assume our students know their scores and understand them, but seeing them on the graph was very eye-opening for them.  I think some students were also surprised at how flat their bars were, or that their scores were actually going down.  I’m happy to report there were no tears.

After graphing their scores, I asked each student to consider what they wanted their goal to be for the next DLA they will take.  Some of them wanted to set the goals unrealistically high, so I reminded them of my marathon example.  I still think some are a little high, but it will be a learning experience.  I used a blue highlighter to mark their goal.  Here are a couple of the 5th Graders’ graphs.  You can see that their goals are quite different.

Monday, we will discuss and decide on specific action steps they can take to reach their goals.  The action steps should be very specific, such as:

  • Practice multiplication facts on FASTT Math 5 times a week
  • Spend more time and effort on my homework
  • Slow down and read word problems more carefully and draw pictures to help me visualize the math
  • Ask my teacher to move my desk so I can focus my attention better
  • Find a math partner to work with who can help me understand math better

These are just some examples I thought of.  I’m sure the students will come up with lots more on Monday.  The students are going to write their three action steps on the back of their graphs, and we’ll review them every couple of weeks to hold the students accountable.

On Monday the students will also take a closer look at their data from the Benchmark to determine the standards they already know well and those they still need to work on.  As we work on each standard over the coming months, we’ll revisit the data and they’ll be able to see growth.

Once the students take their next DLA, they’ll add it to the graph and decide if they need to adjust their goal for the STAAR test.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on this process!  I think holding students accountable for their own data and achievement can be very powerful and is often underutilized.

You can click here to download a copy of the graph,

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  1. Thank you, Donna, for providing some very practical ways that we can help students set goals and plan how to achieve them. When we teach them how to do this, they will be able to use these skills for the rest of their lives.

    1. Thanks, Laney! It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I’m sure the kiddos will be more motivated when they see that setting small goals can lead to success. We wouldn’t normally celebrate a 55, but if a student is coming from a 32, that’s pretty big progress!

  2. This is a great post! I have my 3rd graders track their own progress on math facts. They keep their data in their binder. I like this idea of tracking larger more standardized tests because I think it helps them feel more control and they can see what we are looking at when we look at their data. Also, like you said it makes progress more apparent. Making goals is a great life lesson. I like your analogy to running a marathon.
    Elena Fryer at <a href=”> Not Your Mother’s Math Class</a>

    1. Daisy, what we are finding as we get students involved in tracking their test scores is that many are totally unaware of their grades and scores. It is very eye-opening to them and gives many a sense of purpose.

  3. Thanks Donna, for sharing such practical approach which will definitely help kiddos achieve their goals and will be useful in future as well.I am HG grade mathematics teacher in India and love reading your posts…

    1. Nice to hear that I’m reaching teachers in India! I’m so glad that you can see that what we do in elementary school has an impact on our older students.

  4. Our Administrators want us to track our unit test scores. I do not totally agree because each unit focuses on different TEKS. I see the benefit of students having each test graphed but I don’t see it helping prepare for STAAR test. I saw you used mini type benchmark test. What is your thoughts.

    1. Tracking and using data is definitely not an exact science, Joy. Ideally, we’d want to track data by standard, so we can see what TEKS the students have not mastered. Graphing unit tests is a little like comparing apples and oranges, but it’s a good start. Just making the students aware of their progress is a good thing.

  5. We are looking at implementing student goal setting next year for math. We are currently doing it for reading. I feel what you said about identifying specific action steps is key. A number is just that to a student but how you increase that number is critical. My question is has anyone created action steps based on the math practice standards? These relate specifically to a student’s mathematical habits of mind. I am very interested in doing this as well as content specific goals.

  6. I love the idea of students tracking their own data. Please send me any information or ideas you use. Love this!!!!

    Thank you

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