The art and science of goal setting

By Denise Gibbs, EdD, RTI consultant and author

My family has recently embraced RV camping, and we rarely set out without having a specific destination in mind. For some people, serendipitous wanderings can be a good way to explore the landscape in a leisurely manner, provided they do not care how long they spend traveling and do not have an endpoint in mind. But our most successful RV trips begin with a “global goal”—get from home to Yosemite—and are planned with considerable attention to “mastery measure goals” along the way—safely complete 300 miles of travel and reach our campsite at ____ today to ensure we get to Yosemite in a reasonable amount of time.

As an educational consultant for many years, working with districts, schools, and teachers to design and implement effective RTI and MTSS systems, the similarity between serendipitous RV wanderings and less-than-productive early RTI efforts has become apparent. The roadmap to well-planned and implemented interventions must be directed by attention to both “global academic growth goals” —will evidence reading (or math) skills consistent with students at the 40th percentile in grade X—and “skill mastery goals” —will decode consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words with 80% accuracy (or) will complete timed multiplication fact drills with 90% accuracy.

In Rising to Dyslexia Challenges Through Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (2017), I described the need to embrace and utilize these two types of goals to chart the course of intervention efforts. We need both global growth goals and skill mastery goals to ensure that we achieve the purpose of our intervention journey.

Effective goal setting is dependent upon (1) utilizing available assessment tools, and (2) understanding how to determine the “amount of growth” that can reasonably or ambitiously be expected. There are a number of tools designed to measure global academic gains and skills. These tools will provide a valid and reliable baseline as a starting point, and they will provide evidence of growth in reading or in math as the intervention journey continues.

Similarly, well-designed interventions include skill mastery measurement tools to ensure that students are staying with us on the journey through the intervention. How frustrating it is to discover after weeks of diligently implementing an intervention that a student has not mastered skills and has somehow gotten lost, no longer able to complete the needed intervention tasks in today’s lesson.

In determining how much growth is “good global growth,” we must rely upon publisher-provided metrics derived from the growth of other students who have completed or who are traveling on this journey. If, with our global outcome measure, we are determining baseline and growth with a computer-adaptive test (CAT), such as Renaissance Star Assessments®, we might look at expected scale score growth per week. If we are using a curriculum-based measure (CBM), we might look at expected words read correctly per minute (WRCPM) growth per week. The “expected” growth must be provided by the publisher of the assessment tool and will generally be based upon a VERY large sample of age/grade-matched peers.

To determine whether skill mastery growth is “good skill mastery growth,” we must rely upon measures included within the intervention itself—or we must create such measures to ensure the success of our efforts. Well-constructed interventions may include a “daily quick check” of the target skill to determine the student’s level of mastery at the end of each lesson. These measures provide guidance as to whether it is time to move to the next concept or to continue to reinforce the current concept.

Experience with an intervention and information from the publisher should also provide guidance as to how many concepts or how many levels are typically completed over a school year or in any given time period. Knowing that students typically complete three levels of an intervention within a year will prevent us from being satisfied with “less than good growth” and languishing in Level 1 for an entire school year!

RTI efforts will fail if we do not understand and embrace the art and the science of goal setting. We need to employ both global growth goals and skill mastery growth goals if we are to have a clear picture of “where we are going and if we are getting there.” Serendipitous wanderings are not advisable or acceptable in terms of our RTI efforts.

Discover more goal-setting insights

Watch Dr. Gibbs’ webinar on intervention goals to explore how you can keep your RTI or MTSS program on the right track. You’ll learn best practices for setting global growth goals, setting skill mastery goals, and analyzing intervention outcomes based on these goals. Just click the graphic below to watch the webinar:


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