Throughout my career as a secondary school teacher and teacher-educator, I asked students to submit anonymous evaluations to assess the quality of my teaching. And even though my university required official teacher evaluation forms, I still collected additional data to find out how individuals valued assignments, class activities, presentations, discussions, handouts, teaching materials and required texts. Students rated and commented on the specifics of every course I ever taught, and I made improvements in content and delivery based on learner feedback.
I was therefore encouraged by recent reports from the “Measures of Effective Teaching” (MET) research, a three-year $50 million project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (see News Update page 19). Researchers from the Educational Testing Service and several universities targeted the study to define great teaching and promote new procedures for evaluating and developing teacher competencies. The study found that students could be strong sources of information, and asserted that evaluation systems in districts would be improved significantly through the involvement of peer teachers. The researchers concluded that teacher assessments should feature repeated classroom evaluations by multiple trained observers, be fused with professional development options, and include input from students beyond test results. Students were deemed reliable judges of teacher effectiveness.
In recent years, there have been numerous proposals across the country to tie the evaluation of teachers to test scores exclusively, which to me is misguided and incomplete. Furthermore, in-class observations are too often hurried visits by overworked administrators with limited experience in assessing and developing teacher skills, so these are hardly conducive to professional growth. In contrast, students who are in classrooms all day may help pinpoint teacher strengths and weaknesses that do not show up in other assessments.
Grassroots Power of Online Media
Thanks to the explosive development of online social media, students now have enormous grassroots power to share thoughts on schools and teachers, whether or not they are solicited. This began in higher education with the very public website Rate My Professors (www.ratemyprofessors.com), which I still use in comparing teacher-education programs across the country. It then spread to K12 schools with the also public Rate My Teachers (www.ratemyteachers.com), where individuals rate teachers on easiness, helpfulness, and clarity, and can add comments that are screened for appropriateness. Anonymous ratings have been compiled for more than 15 million individuals who likely include teachers in your district.
Of course the downside is that there is no way to tell if the critiques were done by students, parents, colleagues, or even the teachers themselves. Many also feel that the reviews are mostly popularity contests or witch hunts by disgruntled students. However, I have done countless numbers of lesson evaluations, and find that trends and comments for many teachers I know are surprisingly accurate.
Students also share comments electronically through email, websites, blogs, texting, wikis, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. They will naturally use these vehicles on topics that affect their lives, including teachers and schools, and comments will be negative as well as positive. Learners seldom get to evaluate educational experiences, and their voices are now being heard. We need to tap that expertise.
What are your thoughts on teacher evaluation? Please email me your opinions.
Odvard Egil Dyrli
District AdministrAtion magazine