Policy makers, parents and teachers want — and students deserve — fair, meaningful evaluations.

Policy makers, parents and teachers want — and students deserve — fair, meaningful evaluations. Here are several new ways educators are exploring to evaluate teachers and help them improve.

Rigorous observation

Doug Lemov spent years researching the teaching behaviors of excellent, effective teachers in order to identify exactly which behaviors support student learning. He distilled his research into 49 teaching techniques and published them in "Teach Like a Champion" and a field guide for teachers. Basing teacher evaluation on specific, observable behaviors might allay teachers' concerns about being judged according to the subjective opinions of the principal conducting the observation. The Uncommon Schools charter school system already uses Lemov's taxonomy to evaluate teachers and help them continuously improve their teaching.

Computer-adaptive testing

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is a state-led consortium focused on developing student tests that align with the common core. They are one of two such consortia (the other is PARCC), but Smarter Balanced is specifically focusing on developing computer-adaptive testing that allows students to demonstrate their actual academic level, even when they are performing well below or above grade level.

Educators will be able to track student growth from the beginning of the school year to the end. The result could provide a fairer look at the influence of that year's teacher without favoring teachers whose student populations tend to improve academically over the summer or penalizing teachers whose students tend to experience academic summer slide.

Student evaluation

The Atlantic magazine recently published a report on the benefit of surveying students about their experiences in each teacher's class. According to that report, Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson developed a student survey that was tested by Thomas Kane, working with the Gates Foundation, on a study of teacher effectiveness that included 3,000 teachers in six districts across the U.S.

Kane found that students were surprisingly accurate in their ability to predict a teacher's effectiveness (as measured by student gains on test scores) by answering a few simple questions, such as "My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to" and "In this class we learn to correct our mistakes."

A balanced combination

Kane's study, Measures of Effective Teaching Project, examines the validity and reliability of a number of methods of teacher evaluation, including student surveys, classroom observations and teacher-certification tests. His group published its second set of preliminary findings in January 2012, showing that rigorous observation, student test score gains and student surveys work best in combination.

These three measures were predictive of student test scores on end-of-year state tests as well as other measures of student success, including assessments of conceptual mathematics and writing ability. A final report is in expected later this year.

Gretchen Krebs has taught general and special education in New York and Utah. She is passionate about finding innovative approaches to meet the needs of all students. Contact her at