Set SMART Goals to Improve Student Learning

By Phil Gore, PhD, Division Director of TASB Leadership Team Services

Group of goal-settersWell-written goals can go a long way toward improving student achievement in a school district. Students, teachers, principals, and superintendents all need specific goals to improve performance. Very importantly, school boards need to work collaboratively with superintendents to establish clear and specific goals that govern the work of the school district and drive improvement in student learning.

A recent survey of school district goals across Texas identified serious deficiencies with a lack of specificity, clarity of the desired outcome, and measures for monitoring improvement. While improvement can begin with a well-intended vision, a vision without any plan may result in more of a nightmare than a desired future state. 

Research shows the value of well-established criteria for the evaluation of a superintendent. This includes collaboratively developed goals at the start of an evaluation period.

These goals need obvious alignment with the overall goals for the school district. 

It is of paramount importance that the school board collaboratively set with the superintendent specific targets and deadlines for improving student learning. When overall district goals align with superintendent performance goals, campus improvement plans, and student learning targets, the likely and expected result will be improvement in classroom achievement.

It is critical that the board establishes SMART goals for the district. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Each of these characteristics is critical for driving improvement in student learning in a school district. How SMART are your district goals?

Specific means the goals are clearly defined with precise detail and intention. Measurable means they easily assessed. Achievable goals are realistic. This doesn’t mean they are easily reached but that it is possible to get there. For example, it was not easy for humankind to reach the moon, but it was possible. Relevant goals are appropriate to the current time, conditions, and needs. A goal to calculate the number of horses needed to carry a buggy across Texas may lack the relevance today that it could have had 150 years ago. Finally, effective goals are time-bound. There is a set period of time to achieve the goal.

Without this type of intentionality, goals in name only are highly unlikely to drive improvement in student outcomes within a school district. eXceptional Governance (XG) means school boards are focused, intentional, and committed to improving student learning in their district. Let us know how we can support your good work by e-mailing

This bulletin, produced by TASB Leadership Team Services, examines research and shares philosophies to inform and
promote exceptional governance within school boards across Texas.