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Teacher Evaluations Could be Improved with Student Input

By fhntoday editorial board

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The Breakdown: Teacher Evaluation

Get some background on how teachers are evaluated before looking at how the Editorial Board believes the process could be improved with student input.

This year, Missouri set new standards for teacher evaluation and FHN adjusted its system to meet these requirements.

Teachers were previously evaluated using a long list of standards and principals decided whether the teachers met or didn’t meet them. Now, there is a scale ranging from one to seven for each standard.

Teachers used to be evaluated for either two 30-minute sessions or one 60-minute session per year based on their preference.

The new system uses a cycle of two formative years followed by one summative year for each teacher. During formative years, teachers are evaluated three times for 10 minutes each; during summative years, they are evaluated six times for 10 minutes each.

Teachers are now evaluated on three standards: cognitive engagement (students are paying attention and mentally challenged), lesson aligned with curriculum, and student assessment (teacher stops to make sure students understand lesson.)

Editorial: The Elephant in the Room

We’ve all seen it. A usually brilliant teacher is in the zone, instructing the class, and hammering home the lesson when a principal walks in and takes a seat to evaluate.B Editoral Cartoon copy

Now, one of three things might happen. Sometimes, the teacher melts before our very eyes into a puddle of learning objectives and sweaty palms. Other times, the teacher continues teaching the lesson while trading all personality traits for those of a robot. Or lastly, the happy-go-lucky teacher who enjoys joking and connecting with the students makes the brutal transition to that kid who’s never spoken in front of a class before. Worst of all, there may be an uncomfortable combination of the three.

However unpleasant it may be, this evaluation system is necessary and, without the Big Brother-esque addition of video cameras and secret student evaluators lurking in classrooms, unavoidable. This isn’t about eliminating the current system; it’s about recognizing additional ways to see how effective teachers are. Teachers have a right to know when being evaluated, and principals need to observe the strategies of those teaching, even if they get a slightly skewed look at the teacher’s actual style.

To compensate for these inconsistencies, FHN should introduce student evaluation. Students are the ones who spend hundreds of hours each year with their teachers, rather than the unfamiliar 30-60 minutes per year that administrators spend in classes evaluating. Students should take “exit surveys” at the end of both semester and year-long courses in which they judge the effectiveness of their teachers. True, students aren’t trained to evaluate and may not seem like the most reliable option. However, according to Harvard University’s Center For Education Policy Faculty Director Thomas Kane’s research, students were able to accurately identify their most and least effective teachers, with little variation across ages, racial groups or classes. It may be expected that many students would fill in the same answer for each question, but Kane found that only 0.5 percent of students did this in the first 10 questions.

The exit survey could be modeled off of the current climate survey, except tweaked to fit the new usage and rephrased to apply to individual classrooms. Kane’s survey found the following five questions to highly correlate to students’ test performance in the classes they evaluated, all of which are similar to FHN’s climate survey questions:

  • Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.
  • My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.
  • Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.
  • In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.
  • In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

These questions specifically evaluate the control teachers have over their classes and whether or not a teacher is academically challenging his or her students, both of which are difficult to accurately gauge in a 10-minute sitting by an administrator.

Before battle cries against merit pay and high stakes teaching are readied, let’s be clear: in no way should this student evaluation be used to determine teacher salaries or employment. Like with all evaluation, the goal should be to improve learning in schools and quality teachers should not be pressured into pleasing students or constantly have evaluation numbers in mind. Especially when student evaluation like this is initially introduced, it should have no bearing at all on teachers’ final evaluation numbers until a long period of testing for accuracy and adapting to the new system. The exit survey could be quickly taken after each final in the time already allotted for taking the final.

The bottom line is that students are hands-down the most knowledgeable about the teachers they spend every day learning from and they are the ones who can attest to whether the teacher is able to effectively manage and challenge a class. Let’s face it: they’re already judging and evaluating teachers every single day. Why not listen to what they’re saying? They can form an opinion based on the semester or year as a whole and compensate for good and bad days, rather than bits and pieces gathered from 10-minute sittings. FHN needs to begin taking advantage of the 1,800 evaluators it has walking its halls daily and allow its educators to learn a thing or two in the process.

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The Student News Website of Francis Howell North High School.
Teacher Evaluations Could be Improved with Student Input