Growth goal setting is a secret weapon behind student success

A new study has uncovered the major benefits of growth goal-setting techniques among high school students.

24 June 2021
Two Students sitting at desk in front of laptop computers
Image: Growth goal-setting levels boosts student perseverance.

A forthcoming study between the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) has uncovered the major benefits of growth goal-setting techniques among high school students.

Growth goal setting means students set themselves challenging goals, that match or exceed a previous best effort or performance.

Teachers help students to develop a personalised learning plan and give regular feedback on progress towards milestones.

Rooty Hill High School principal Christine Cawsey said growth goal setting has lifted academic development and attendance for her students.

She first introduced the practice five years ago and said her teachers regularly meet with students to set challenging goals and encourage self-assessment on their learning plans.

“Since 2016, students have used an electronic portfolio to select work samples from curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular learning that demonstrate they are meeting or exceeding the ACARA capability benchmarks.”

“Students annotate these samples and then work with their teachers to co-construct detailed report comments. By engaging students in their own self-evaluation the school has built a learning culture of persistence, self-discipline, and agency,” said Ms Cawsey.

Data from the study suggests that students with high growth goal-setting levels have over 30% percent more perseverance than students with low levels.

UNSW Professor Andrew Martin is a world-leading researcher in educational psychology and is one of the co-authors of the study. 

“We’ve found that self-competition rather than competition with others, can actually be just as energising and in fact have many more upsides than other types of goals that students can pursue,” said Professor Martin.

Ian McCarthy is a co-Director of Strategic Analysis and Research in the department’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) and also co-authored the study.

He said when students from low-SES backgrounds set high growth goals with teachers there was often a notable boost in attendance.  

“We were able to identify that explicit teaching practice, use of feedback, and being clear and organised in class are key teaching practices that support growth goal setting and student engagement,” said Mr McCarthy.

“With this evidence base, the department has developed further resources to support teachers and schools in implementing growth goal setting in the classroom.”

The study is the largest examination of growth goal setting ever undertaken, and utilises data gathered from over 60,000 students who participated in Tell Them From Me surveys.

It will be published internationally in the Journal of Educational Psychology later this year. 

A guide for educators on growth goal setting is available at this website

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