With all the debate in New Jersey and elsewhere about evaluating teachers on how well their students perform, another idea is starting to surface that could prove equally provocative: judging teachers by what their students think of them.
One of the options available to New Jersey school districts as they build teacher evaluation systems is including student surveys among the “multiple measures” of student achievement. The idea is gaining popularity, at least among policy-makers.
Several districts that have been part of the pilot program testing evaluation models have included or plan to include student surveys, although not necessarily as part of a teacher's grade.
In Alexandria, for instance, teachers survey their students and are required to employ the results in developing self-evaluations and professional goals.
Still, those surveys are not part of the evaluations themselves, and one principal said that’s where it could get problematic.
“I’m not sure that children have enough knowledge about pedagogy to evaluate teachers,” said David Pawlowski, principal of the Alexandria Middle School. “That gets into a tricky area.”
The idea is gaining traction nationally, however, with the release this week of the final report of the massive Measures for Effective Teaching (MET) research project conducted by the Bill & Belinda Gates Foundation, which looked at a variety of ways of evaluating teachers.
In preliminary findings released over the past few years, the MET study suggested both student achievement and classroom observation be given strong weight in judging the effectiveness of teachers. It’s a common refrain in school reform circles and a centerpiece of teacher evaluation systems in dozens of states, including New Jersey.
But the study also included student surveys as a central component, saying that their judgments provide valuable insight as to how well a teacher is supporting and communicating with his or her charges.
“Only recently have many policymakers and practitioners come to recognize that --when asked the right questions, in the right ways -- students can be an important source of information on the quality of teaching and the learning environment in individual classrooms,” reads the introduction to the MET brief on student surveys.
How that is done is where it can get complicated, however, and New Jersey is only starting to grapple with that issue as it demands every district have an evaluation system in place by next fall.
The guidelines and regulations for those systems are yet to be distributed, and state officials said they are continuing to develop and discuss what will be in them, including the possibility of student surveys.
State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf yesterday said that student input is an intriguing option among many for judging teacher effectiveness, but said it is too early to tell how important it might be.
“I am intrigued by recent research indicating that they may be valid as one element of an approach that incorporates multiple indicators,” he wrote in an email. “At the same time, I share the concerns of some educators about student surveys, so would not want to take any steps in that direction without soliciting their views and perspective.”
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