An Investigation of Middle Grade Mathematics and Language Arts Teachers’ Knowledge and Beliefs of Student Learning Objectives

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Teacher evaluations in most school districts, until recently, have served as an exercise in compliance rather than a means to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each teacher in order to provide appropriate support to improve professional practice and increase student learning. Current federal legislation has stimulated districts to rethink their evaluation systems.

In Saint Lawrence School District (SLSD) we discovered a misalignment between middle grade student performance in mathematics and reading and teacher ratings in those schools. Although over 50% of the students failed to meet standards in mathematics and reading, the majority of teachers were rated as highly effective. The SLSD recently adopted a new evaluation system that includes multiple measures to indicate teacher strengths and weaknesses and identify the support needed. Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) are a major component of the new system, added to measure the individual teacher’s contribution to student learning.

This study investigated middle grade mathematics and language arts teachers’ knowledge and understanding of the intent and processes associated with the implementation of the Student Learning Objectives; the extent to which teachers report that student data from the SLO process have changed their instructional practices; and teacher perceptions regarding the value of SLOs in improving student learning and their own professional growth. Of the 315 middle school teachers invited to participate in the study, 232 teachers from the 19 comprehensive middle schools in SLSD submitted an anonymous electronic survey. The study incorporated exploratory design and used descriptive statistics, graphic presentations, and significant tests to examine patterns, behaviors, and viewpoints of those teachers.

The results indicate that participants understand the intent and process of SLOs, but perceive no noticeable changes in teacher practice as a result of SLO implementation. Although most teachers agree that professional development needs should be based on the needs of students, over 50% disagree with the SLO process as a means to improve their teaching. Teachers with fewer years at their current school reported they had a greater belief in the use of student data to improve instruction than their counterparts with over four years at their school.