Students suggest better ways to grade teachers

Published: Monday, Oct. 22 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

Across the country, educators are hesitant about student surveys being used to formally evaluate their work. Tara Black, a first grade teacher, says she uses surveys with her students all the time to find out what is working and what she needs to improve. She likes using surveys to improve her teaching, but she calls the idea of surveys being used to punish her "not fun." Other teachers worry that student surveys could lead to popularity contests among teachers, rather than better teaching.

The trick, according to the MET project researchers, is to ask the right questions. Instead of eliciting students' personal opinions of a teacher, the student perception survey they tested, called the TRIPOD Student Survey, focuses on specific, observable student and teacher behaviors within the classroom.

In Memphis, students will be surveyed twice a year with the TRIPOD survey. The survey probes whether students agree or disagree with statements like, "Students in this class treat the teacher with respect," and, "The comments that I get on my work in this class help me understand how to improve."

Slow spread

The focus on more comprehensive teacher evaluation is slowly spreading among U.S. communities. All states have set basic teacher evaluation policies to comply with No Child Left Behind, but most leave the details to individual communities. This has given districts and cities in over a dozen states the flexibility to develop systems that include rigorous observation and student surveys. Most early adopting districts are east of the Mississippi River, but communities in Texas, Arizona, and Colorado have piloted similarly comprehensive systems.

Next steps

For Goyal, adding rigorous observation and student surveys is a step in the right direction for teacher evaluations. The next step is to end what he calls the "witch hunt" for bad teachers and shift the focus to improvement. His prescription can be summed up by an adage he picked up from his independent conversations with professors at Harvard, "Evaluate to improve, not to prove."

As for his own next steps, Goyal is graduating early, in January, from Syosset High School in New York. He is excited about pursuing work in the nonprofit sector and he plans to go to college in 2014 to study politics and public policy.

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