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Tired of SMART Goals; Try Some DUMB Ones Instead

Balancing data with important 21st-century skill sets

One idea that has permeated education for the past few years is that of data, and using it to drive and shape instruction. This is a great idea because you as the teacher find out what is working effectively in your classroom and what might not be getting students where you want them to be. In essence, it allows you to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Schools have embraced this, turning to data teams to analyze all of the information we collect on students and figuring out how to teach them better. We make SMART goals to accomplish this:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Assignable

R – Realistic

T – Time-related

The basic premise of a SMART goal is that it is something that can be measured, either through an assessment, evaluation, or observation. Like many things in education, we seem to have taken this concept to the extreme where we are not letting anything into the classroom unless it can be measured. As a result, there are certain unmeasurable intangibles that have been left by the wayside.

For example, I can remember when I was setting goals for my gifted students on their Written Education Plans. Some of the goals were, “would like to see him taking on more of a leadership role”, “would like her to become more comfortable with speaking in public”, and “would like to see him push himself to the next level of thinking”, all things that gifted students should be doing. My principal refused to sign the plans. He said, “these aren’t things I can measure.” I argued that they could be informally measured through observation which he batted away like King Kong does biplanes. He wanted me to link the goals to their STAR results.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with STAR, it is a reading and math program where students take a test three times a year and are compared with everyone else who took the test. It gives them a percentile rank and a grade level they are performing at. These assessments rarely ever contain any higher level questions, and gifted students many times will score in the 99+ on the first test. Where can they go from there? This me