Handout: Understanding Effective Educational Goals

Many federal and state grants and programs require the setting and monitoring of goals. Most organizations and sites also set long-term strategic goals and short-term annual goals to guide improvement. This guidance suggests approaches to planning and goal-setting that can help leadership teams support and monitor continuous improvement of instruction and curriculum.

Teams have been defined as “a group of people who work interdependently with a shared goal for which all members are mutually accountable” (DuFour, 2009). Goals must do more than simply articulate the desired outcomes for the system. Effective goals provide direction to stakeholders and specify what is being done and by whom. A clear goal(s) avoids the “random acts of improvement” seen when individuals are left to determine their own approaches to solve identified system problems (Bernhardt, 2013).

What is a SMART goal?

The concept of a S.M.A.R.T. goal (Doran, 1981) comes from the field of business management. The framework has been refined in the field of education, and the acronym SMART offers criteria for the writing of effective goals, and according to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE 2018), SMART stands for:

· Specific and Strategic

· Measurable

· Attainable

· Results-Based

· Time-Bound

Note that SMART criteria are intended to be guiding ideas to help managers consider the elements necessary to share with team members. Not every goal will reflect all criteria. It is sometimes unproductive to attempt to cram all of these pieces into a single statement or sentence. In order to convey specificity, sometimes it is necessary for goals to be expressed in a more robust way. This ensures that all contributors understand what should be done to actualize the desired results.

What are the purposes of outcome, effort, and fidelity goals?

These goal statements articulate the specific approaches and expectations of the improvement efforts articulated within a working action plan, including desired outcomes, adult efforts, and fidelity monitoring. (For more information on the differences among outcome, effort, and fidelity, visit the Decision Support Data Systems strategy of the Portal.

In order to plan, monitor, and adjust both implementation and supports, it is useful to have three goals that work together. The three goals include an outcome goal(s), an effort goal(s), and a fidelity goal(s).

Each goal type is briefly described below. An example is provided of each goal type; these examples convey possible goals established to implement effective instructional practices for teaching students to use word parts (that is, morphology) to understand new words.

Outcome Goals

Outcome goals provide milestones and targets that state the specific change in student performance expected as a result of the implemented changes to instruction.

By the end-of-year Elementary Spelling Inventory screening, 50% of Grade 4 students will score at or above the Syllable & Affixes - Middle stage.

Effort Goals

Effort goals provide implementation milestones and targets for the completion of action plan activities. The effort goals should both articulate adult efforts (training, coaching, use of instructional practices, etc.) and efforts impacting learners (instructional time received, access to resources, supports, and opportunities, etc.).

All teachers will complete training in conducting Big Words for Big Kids lessons from an instructional coach by the end of quarter one.

Fidelity Goals

Fidelity goals provide implementation milestones and targets for using practices, as intended.

By the winter break, each grade 4 classroom teacher will have successfully modeled the five steps of the Word-analysis Strategy from memory when given a multisyllabic word during a PLC meeting.


Bernhardt, V.L. (2013). Data analysis for continuous improvement (3rd Ed.). New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management's Goals and Objectives", Management Review, Vol. 70, Issue 11, pp. 35-36.

DuFour, Richard (October 9, 2009). Solution Tree: Rick DuFour on Groups vs. Teams. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hV65KIItlE

Minnesota Department of Education. (2018). Setting Useful Goals. Retrieved 8/19/19 from https://education.mn.gov/mdeprod/idcplg?IdcService=GET_FILE&dDocName=MDE074919&RevisionSelectionMethod=latestReleased&Rendition=primary