The use of student learning objectives (SLOs) as part of teacher performance systems has gained traction quickly in the United States, yet little is known about how teachers select specific students’ learning goals. When teachers are evaluated—and sometimes compensated—based on whether their students meet the very objectives the teachers set at the start of the year, there may be an incentive to set low targets. SLO systems rely on teachers’ willingness and ability to set appropriately ambitious SLOs. We describe teachers’ SLO target-setting behavior in one school-district. We document the accuracy/ambitiousness of targets and find that teachers regularly set targets that students did not meet. We also find that, within the same year, a student’s spring test scores tend to be higher on the assessments for which they received higher targets. This raises the intriguing possibility that receiving higher targets might cause students to perform better than they otherwise would have.

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Published in AERA Open, v. 7, no. 1.

© The Author(s) 2021

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).

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Support has also been provided by IES Grant R305B100009 to the University of Virginia.