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Measuring Student Growth: An Introduction to Student Learning Objectives

What is an SLO?

A student learning objective (SLO) is a measurable, long-term academic goal, informed by available data, that a teacher or teacher team sets at the beginning of a course for all students or a subset of students. SLOs are focused on the most valuable learning that is to take place in a course. They are specific and measurable goals that are based on student data and aligned to curriculum standards.

Why consider SLOs?

SLOs are one way to measure the academic growth of students. They also provide a way of personalizing learning for students and of helping teachers improve instruction. Education legislation in Michigan states that student growth and assessment component of a teacher’s evaluation may include the state student growth and assessment measurement standards and a local student growth assessment.

What are potential strengths of the SLO process?

Some of the reasons the SLO process is used so widely are because SLOs are:

  • Versatile. SLOs can be used to measure student growth for all teachers, not just teachers in tested grades and subjects.
  • Teacher driven. The use of SLOs allows teachers to set goals for their students, thus playing a critical role in their own evaluations.
  • Adaptable. As schools implement new standards and curricula, SLOs still can be used to measure student learning.

What does research say about SLOs?

Early research on the SLO process shows promise. In one study, teachers reported that the SLO goal-setting process helped them become more focused on student achievement and data use. As a result, the teachers employed more evidence-based practices (Slotnik, Smith, & Liang, 2013).

In evaluations of SLO implementation, teachers reported that the SLO process provided them with the opportunity for data use; they reported that the SLO process was an empowering aspect of their evaluations and they engaged in their evaluations more actively after SLO implementation (Donaldson, 2012; New Teacher Project, 2012).  

Evaluation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools showed significantly higher multi-year growth rates in reading (13%) and mathematics (12%) between students of teachers in schools using SLOs and students of teachers in the non-SLO comparison schools.

Findings from a four-year study show that elementary, middle, and high school students whose teachers had high quality SLOs outperformed their peers on state and national standardized tests. (The final summative report for Denver’s landmark performance-based initiative).

How are SLOs being used and implemented?

Some states and districts across the country currently use SLOs in an effort to measure student progress and improve instruction. A review of publicly available documents found that 35 states have policies or recommendations related to the use of SLOs in their educator effectiveness systems. 

What are the types of SLOs?

There are four types of commonly used SLOs. Each covers a unique group of students.

  • A class-level SLO includes all students in a particular class.
  • A course-level SLO includes all students in a particular course.
  • A targeted SLO includes a specific group or groups of students in a class or course, usually for the purpose of targeted skill development.
  • A multi-course SLO includes specific students throughout classes or grade levels.

Who should use SLOs?

Teachers of any grade and subject who seek to measure the academic growth of their students might benefit from the use of SLOs.

How does SLO implementation flow with the continuous improvement process?

In an effort to ensure alignment and integration of the use of SLOs with other initiatives, the SLO process follows and is linked to Michigan’s MICIP, which includes data analysis, goal setting, goal refinement, and evaluation. Although the school improvement process focuses on the goal attainment of the entire school, SLOs are specific to the content a teacher is responsible for teaching. In this way, SLOs can serve as an extension of the school improvement process.

How will the Michigan Department of Education support SLO implementation?

Although the use of SLOs as a measure of student growth is not required, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) has consulted with other states and districts to gain useful information about SLO implementation. To that end, MDE will provide documents, such as an SLO checklist, template, and an SLO decision-making guide that can be used to help implement SLOs at the local level. MDE also will provide resources for training and support.

What online resources might be useful in my search for more information about SLOs?

Although the following list is not exhaustive, the websites can provide complementary information about the use of SLOs in states and districts around the country.

  • Center on Great Teachers and Leaders: SLOs are emerging as one measure to assess teachers’ contributions to student growth in educator evaluation systems. To support states and districts in developing and implementing SLOs, the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders is curating a searchable collection of SLO resources.
  • Center for Assessment SLO ToolkitThe Center for Assessment developed the Student Learning Objective Toolkit to help educators plan for developing quality SLOs. The toolkit currently consists of video modules, SLO templates, SLO planning information, and other helpful materials.

Who can I contact at MDE to learn more about SLO implementation?

For more information about the use of SLOs in Michigan, please contact:


Donaldson, M. L. (2012). Teachers’ perspectives on evaluation reform. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

New Teacher Project. (2012). Summer report: Creating a culture of excellence in Indiana schools. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Department of Education. Retrieved from

Slotnik, W. J., Smith, M. D., & Liang, G. (2013). Focus on Rhode Island: Student learning objectives and evaluation. Boston, MA: Community Training and Assistance Center. Retrieved from