The National Development Plan (NDP) outlines the government’s intention to improve learning outcomes at all levels in the education system. This intention is expressed through goals and improvements targets.
The Department of Basic Education’s Action plan to 2019 (the sector plan) marks the government’s commitment to ensuring that every earner in this country, regardless of his or her home background and socio-economic status, receives quality education. The sector plan translates goals encapsulated in the NDP into an actionable plan. However, two factors at the school level undermine the successful implementation of the sector plan:
First, the national goals and targets must find expression in school goals and targets, which must be included in their school improvement plans. But most schools, particularly primary schools, do not set goals and targets as part of their school improvement planning process.
Second, school-wide target-setting is best initiated at the classroom level, where teachers can identify particular learners or groups of learners needing a particular focus. Targets can then be established and owned at department level, then incorporated into school-wide targets. This would enable staff members at every level of the school to have ownership of the targets, and to take responsibility for them. Regrettably, this practice does not prevail in many schools.
SETTING SCHOOL-WIDE GOALS
Without goals a school lacks focus and direction. Goal-setting not only allows a school to take control of the direction it must take, it also provides a benchmark for determining whether a school is actually succeeding.
This article illustrates how goal-setting in top performing schools is a process that starts with careful consideration of what they want to achieve, and ends with a lot of hard work to actually do it. These schools design SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals which resonate well with the national goals as encapsulated in the NDP and sector plan.
THE TARGET-SETTING PROCESS
High performing schools employ an effective target setting process.
How can a school set the right performance targets? Briefly discussed next are lessons how schools that work use an effective process to set goals that encourage all staff members to be more focused, succeed in their efforts and drive superior performance.
STEP 1: GATHER APPROPRIATE INFORMATION
High performing schools use summative, diagnostic and formative assessments to gather information about the level of learner achievement and the reasons why learners are achieving at that level.
Learner achievement data is derived from two main sources:
- The end-of-year results including the National Senior Certificate (NSC) results
- Teachers’ formative assessment results, which teachers gather at the classroom level
Equipped with clear, reliable, specific, and regular assessment results, these schools are able to figure out what is working and what needs improvement.
STEP 2: ANALYSE THE INFORMATION IN CONTEXT
To derive meaning from assessment results, teachers in high-performing schools dig deeper into their results than just calculating average percentages per class and presenting the spread of performance in terms of the proportions of learners who achieved specific levels of performance.
Looking at the performance of individual learners, groups of learners, as well as gradelevel and school-wide performance, these teachers identify:
- Levels of achievement and establish an expectation for future achievement
- Areas that need to be addressed to improve levels of achievement
- Strategies needed to address areas of deficiency (the improvement plan)
STEP 3: SET MEASURABLE PERFORMANCE TARGETS
Many high-performing schools acknowledge that achieving the national targets (discussed above) begins with schools meeting individual learner targets. Thus, targets are set at different levels chronologically as follows:
Learners‘ targets: Each learner is encouraged to set his or her own goals and targets. All learners have and are aware of their targets
Subject targets: Each subject has got its own performance target
Schools targets: School-wide targets are also set at the beginning of the year. As in the example below, these targets are clearly expressed or are SMART, i.e. specific, measurable, ambitious but achievable, relevant and time-limited.
The schools that work use targets that they have set to measure the impact or the success of their improvement strategies. School-based targets help these schools to raise national expectations as outlined in the NDP.
STEP 4: USE PERFORMANCE TARGETS TO GUIDE IMPROVEMENT PLANNING
High-performing schools understand that targets alone do not bring about improvement. Thus, in these schools, target setting goes hand-in-hand with an action plan of how the targets will be met. Put differently, school improvement planning is done at the same time as target-setting. In high performing schools, using performance targets to guide improvement planning involves the following:
Effective improvement planning: School improvement plans:
- consider past performance
- set targets for improvement
- articulate the strategies for meeting those targets
Monitoring and evaluation: Monitoring and evaluation of improvement strategies is an essential step in the improvement process. Targets are used to evaluate the impact.
Reviews and refinements: The evidence gathered through monitoring and evaluation helps schools to:
- determine whether their improvement strategies are effective
- review their goals and improvement targets annually where necessary
- refine goals and targets for future years
STEP 5: REPORT TARGETS AND RESULTS TO ENSURE ACCOUNTABILITY
Accountability is central to the target-setting process. After every formal assessment, high performing schools identify gaps between a desired learning goal and the learners’ present status towards that learning goal.
Thereafter, these schools respond to the analysis of formative assessment results by holding everybody accountable for learner performance.
Schools should not regard the target-setting process as a new and separate improvement planning activity. Schools are encouraged to integrate target-setting with their school improvement planning process.
Goals should first be set for a school year’s end but divided and back‐mapped by school quarter, month, and even week, if possible. This type of planning makes goals much more actionable, allowing schools to better identify steps needed to meet end‐of‐the‐year targets.
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