How to Teach Students to Set Data-Based Learning Goals

Use Data to Set Learning Goals

Do you teach your students how to use their data to set their own learning goals? If not, you should consider starting! This is one of the best ways to teach your kiddos how to take ownership of their learning goals. 

It’s one thing to master skills like highlighting, annotating, and discussing a text, but it’s something else to apply those skills on an assessment. I noticed time and again that my students could do all the right things as we practiced them, but it all fell apart more often than not at test time. 

Teaching my students to analyze their own data and use it to set learning goals and clear-cut objectives was a game-changer. 

Use Data to Set Learning Goals

Why Teach Students to Set Learning Goals

This might be obvious to some, but I think sometimes we take for granted how much help our young learners need with planning and achieving goals. 

When we explicitly teach goal-setting skills to students, we’re helping them develop crucial life skills. Higher-level skills, or executive functions of the brain, aren’t fully developed until the late teens or early twenties. These skills include things like time management, organizing and prioritizing tasks, and keeping track of multi-step processes. Pretty important stuff! 

While we can’t change the brain’s natural course of development, we can help children practice these skills and gain confidence while doing so. 

Setting learning goals, and then analyzing them, helps students develop a growth mindset. When they know how to break down a task into measurable, attainable action steps, they feel more confident. That confidence is just reinforced when they can look back on their progress and see how far they’ve come. If they missed the mark, rather than giving up, they can look back at their action steps and see what may have been missing or not quite mastered (yet!). 

What Kind of Data Should Students Analyze?

There are all sorts of goals you can help students set. How many books will they read a month? 

How many days of school have they been absent? What is their rate of success on weekly spelling tests? 

All of those data points can be motivating and eye-opening in their own ways. Oh, you’ve missed 10% of all school days so far? What effect might that have on your learning? 

In my classroom, we place a heavy focus on tracking and analyzing student progress toward mastering our curriculum standards. 

An Example From My Classroom  

I teach from the Benchmark Advance curriculum, but this method could be used in any classroom. From the very beginning of the school year, I explicitly teach my students to identify, analyze, and track their progress in mastering each standard. 

It takes some time, but it’s absolutely worth it. Let me walk you through the process I use with my 3rd graders. This example is using a fictional Native American tale, so we’ll be using mainly RL and RF standards.  

First, we read each question together to identify the particular skill and standard being assessed. I ask students to highlight or underline the most important part of each question. 

In this case, the question is: What is the central message of the story?

We highlight the words “central message” and then look at our standards to see which one fits. That’s RL 3.2. I ask students to write this in the margins, along with the word or phrase we highlighted. So at this point, they should have “Central Message – RL 3.2” in the margin. 

We repeat this process with each question, and then at the end, we tally up how frequently each standard appeared. 

In this case, we discovered that we had 10 RL standards and 8 RF. 

This process may feel tedious at first, as both you and the students get the hang of the routine. Trust me, though! After a few months, your students will be jumping out of their seats to tell you which standard the question addresses. It’s pretty fun to see. 

Then what?

Simply identifying the standards isn’t enough, so don’t stop there! I like to work with my students to take the data we’ve uncovered—for example, the frequency that each standard shows up—and then set learning goals. 

Let’s say that we notice that RL 3.2, identifying the central message or moral of the story, appears more frequently than others. A learning goal might be “I will work on identifying the central message of a story by looking for key details from the text.”

Then, I ask students to write down the specific actions they need to take to achieve their goal. In this case, it might look something like this: 

Step 1: Underline key events and details
Step 2: Retell the story to a friend
Step 3: Decide what lesson the author wants you to learn from the story
Step 4: Describe the central message in your own words


Teaching students to analyze their own data to set learning goals is one of the most important skills we can teach.

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    After students complete the assessment, I always ask them to reflect on what they’ve completed. Did they meet their goal? Did they follow all the steps or did they skip some? We have lots of discussions both as a whole group and individually, so this type of reflection becomes a normal part of our learning routine. 

    Reflecting On Student Progress

    I know a lot of teachers dread the end-of-year state exams, and for good reason! They can feel scary and overwhelming, and we all know there’s a lot riding on how well our students do on these tests.

    When you spend your school year speaking the language of the standards and working so hard on analysis and goal setting, assessments start to feel more like a celebration than a burden. Really! My favorite thing is seeing my students’ eyes light up when they look back on their very first assessment taken on one of the first days of school. 

    At the end of the year, they take the exact same test again, and we compare them side-by-side. My kids are so proud of themselves when they see the actual evidence of how far they’ve come! Some will giggle about how they answered the prompts the first time around. All of them beam with pride. It’s like pure gold for a teacher. 

    Setting Learning Goals With Benchmark Advance

    A quick note on how this looks with Benchmark Advance materials: 

    We have four interim tests to give over the course of the school year. The first one is given during the first few days of school as a screening. Obviously, most kids are going to do poorly on this. They haven’t been taught the curriculum yet! The second interim test is given after teaching the first three units; the 3rd is given following unit six. 

    At the end of the year, we give the fourth interim test, which is the exact same as the first. This is where we see the biggest growth happen! I give this fourth test before the state assessments because it’s a wonderful way to pinpoint the skills we still need to work on. We go through the same process we’ve practiced all year long: identifying the standards and setting learning goals to master each one. 

    It’s a low-stress and highly effective way to prepare for the state exams. 

    Do you have any ideas to share? Or do you have any questions about setting learning goals? Leave a comment on this post below!

    Save Prep Time With Benchmark Advance “Apply It” Bundles

    Don’t have time to reinvent the wheel? I feel you! Prepare your students for assessment with these Apply It! questions from the Markers and Minions Close Reading Companion line. Students practice answering questions that are worded just like the Benchmark and state tests. Apply It! questions walk students through the process I’ve described in this blog post, helping your students get prepared for Benchmark tests and the state exams.

    Each bundle has thirty weeks of questions (three weeks worth per unit). There are 180+ questions you can use during whole class lessons, small group instruction, or with individual students. Fully adaptable for virtual or in-person learning, these come with printable PDFs, digital Google Slides, and self-grading Google Form quizzes.

    Find them for grades 2-5 here:

    Related: Benchmark Advance Assessments in Distance Learning

    To join our Benchmark Advance Facebook community, click here.

    Hi! I’m Toluca from Markers and Minions, where I help teachers feel more effective and confident with high-quality resources and an awesome teacher community!

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