Susan Riley | May 2013

Student Learning Objectives in the Arts

Student Learning Objectives are coming to a school near you.  Are you ready?  First of all, if you are not aware of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), I encourage you to find out as much as you can about them.  Essentially, these are selected targets based on the students in your classroom that you set as a goal to move your students forward.  There is much debate about this latest tool in the move of education reform, but many states are using these as a way to drive student growth and as part of teacher evaluations.  Thus, it’s so critical to have an understanding of how to use these in our classrooms effectively while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of our content areas.

Don’t Panic

The key to SLOs is to remain calm.  Don’t panic.  The minute something is tied to an evaluation, people naturally become more stressed.  After all, we’re all type “A’s” who want to do our best at all times and if our students don’t meet the goals we set, it reflects negatively on us.  But the best parts about SLOs is that they put the power of choice into the hands of us as teachers.  We get to choose which students and what content we want to focus on in this process.  That’s a great thing – it empowers us as professionals and acknowledges that we know our own students.

It’s about Growth

SLOs are all about student growth.  As an arts teacher (or any teacher for that matter), you know what skills and concepts your students struggle with year in and year out.  This is our chance to identify these areas and focus on them with intensity over a long period of time.  It’s also our chance as educators to identify areas where we would like to grow and request professional development or other resources to help support our goals.

Ready, Set, Aim

While SLOs may look different across the states, the essential elements remain the same.

Data Analysis and Background Information.  Just like always, we’re looking at previous data on a topic and identifying pieces where students could make growth over time.  Additionally, this also allows you to explain extenuating circumstances or complexity factors that effect this group of students.

Student Population and Length of Time: This just identifies the student population you want to focus on and how long you want to take to accomplish your target.  This should be for a longer period of time – usually at least a quarter of the time you see those students.  So if you have them for a quarter, your target would be for at least 2-3 weeks.  If it’s a year-long class, you’re looking for data that’s over at least 9 weeks of time.

Target: This is where you identify exactly what you want the students to accomplish.  This typically looks like a range.  For instance, it might look like this: 70-80% of students in grade four music will achieve at least a 3 on a 5 point rubric for the sight reading music assessment in the 3rd quarter.

Data Table: This is a way to track the data you collect from the target you set above.

Professional Development: This is a place where teachers can identify the professional development they need in order to be successful in achieving their target.

Effects on the Arts

SLOs have the potential to be a way to advocate for your program and to provide a frame for having meaningful conversations about student growth.  As arts teachers, we use performance tasks, formative assessments, and a lot of professional judgment to help our students grow in their capacity to make art and participate in the artistic process.  SLOs simply provide a context to showcase this work to others who may not understand what we do each and every day.

More Information

Looking for more information?  Check out these great websites to get you started with further information and sample SLOs:

Engage NY would be my first stop.  They have done an incredible amount of work in the area of SLOs and are working now on disseminating what they’ve learned from this year’s implementation experience.

MDK12 is just now finishing up their first year of piloting SLOs and has a wide variety of information available on not only implementation, but also sample SLO targets.

Ohio Department of Education is taking particular care to showcase SLOs from Music, Art, and PE.  These are so helpful as a starting point for arts educators.

Take a look around and get an idea of how different states are approaching this process.  However, a word of caution: don’t simply copy and paste into your SLO when it comes to your school.  If you don’t understand how an SLO is developed, your SLO will be difficult to implement and to assess.  You can’t just substitute your information for the samples you see.  Instead, study many different examples, learn as much as you can about the process and then begin to think about how this could look in your classroom.  From there, you’ll be on a better road to SLOs that will matter to you.

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan