Community Voices

Beyond the Classroom: What would happen if kids could grade their teachers?

The other day, I was doing what most teachers do... grading papers. As I graded the papers, I began to think — how would the students grade ME on the lessons I make, on my ability to explain or share knowledge, on my use of humor, on my flexibility and sensitivity?

After completing a very popular activity I do each year, I felt the need to ask the kids to “grade” it on a scale of 1-10. I got lots of 8s and 9s. So I said, “well how could I make it a 10?” And you know what? The kids came up with some great ideas. I had just been graded! It was my own “aha” moment.

If we can get past the “students grading teachers” concept, we realize that it is more about a critique — what each participating individual perceives as positive or negative, or effective or ineffective. And these critiques provide a platform for review and improvement. Any profession or introspective body of knowledge demands an assessment. Education is no different, we just haven’t figured out how.

Students are the ultimate consumers. Teachers, with parental support, provide a service. Without input from the consumers, how do we really know how effective we are at imparting information?

No one likes criticism. Yet without meaningful reflection and constructive criticism, how do we evolve, improve and ascend?

No one is perfect but there is a difference between those who have an intrinsic desire to improve and those who do not. As professionals, we have an obligation to continue to hone our skills and knowledge base. The world is changing and our consumers are changing with it.

The literature suggests that students “grading” teachers is quite controversial.

Some of the pros

This is why there should be an opportunity at the end of each school term for students to submit online evaluations of faculty.

▪ It allows teachers to see their progress. Teachers need to know how they are doing. If students are able to grade their teachers the teachers can look back on this and focus on what isnt working and make it better.

▪ Firsthand feedback on burn-out. Out-with-the-burned out and in-with-the-passionate is seriously needed in many places. Students may provide some insightful feedback and advice on where school faculty are needing improvement in order to be successful.

▪ Accountability and professionalism. Teachers are accountable to students for creating an environment that fosters learning. They do this with their attitude, knowledge, maturity, sensitivity, respect, judgment, enthusiasm, connection, etc. That’s a lot to bring to the table and they should be assessed on how well they are able to bring it — or not.

▪ Yes Feedback, No grades. Giving a letter grade A, B, C, etc. tells you nothing about the person and what was done in the class. It is not about a grade, it’s about feedback. The student is the teacher’s best critic. Feedback helps the teacher to improve their methods.

▪ Effectiveness of Teaching. Are they explaining the work they want us to do? Are they actually teaching us something valuable? Teachers are usually tested based on the knowledge they have of the subject, but very rarely based on their teaching skills. Student evaluations might provide insightful information on the teachers’ teaching skills.

Some of the cons

▪ Bias. While some bad students might give their teachers low scores, some students may not care whether or not they get graded and submit nothing. This would result in a Voluntary Response Bias.

▪ Immaturity. In the perfect world, students would maturely construct fair and sensible evaluations of their teachers in order to ensure their teachers creating an environment that fosters learning. But we do not live in a perfect world, and most students are too immature to objectively execute an evaluation of their teachers.

▪ Not a student’s job. Sure, the teacher should know if they’re doing their job right, but there should be a high ranked supervisor who should grade the educator.

So what if student feedback was included in an evaluation? After all, they are the ones who spend the most time with their teachers. Should students be able to grade their teachers?

It is already happening.

Cindy Long of neaTODAY, shares that educators from around the country have varying opinions about incorporating student feedback into official evaluations. Teachers feel that student input should definitely count in evaluations as long as there are checks and balance system in place and only if it’s used for improving teaching and not for high-stakes decisions.

In Memphis, school teachers are being evaluated for student growth data, classroom observations, and their content knowledge, but also by their students whose input, called “stakeholder perceptions” by the district, counts for 5%.

In Palm Beach, the school board proposed a “Secret Student Survey” composed of five 0-5 rating questions and three essay questions.

New York Times writer Michael Bonchar in his article Should Students Be Able To Grade Their Teacher, refers to “Grading Teachers, With Data From Class,” where tech start-up Panorama Education is using student questionnaires to evaluate how teachers are doing.

Reality Checks

Edutopia writer, author, and educator Ben Johnson reveals student comments (and his reaction) following his end of course survey after teaching algebra for the first time.

“This course was a complete waste of my time and money!” (What? No way!)

“We need a better instructor that actually knows what he is doing.” (I bet I know who wrote that one.)

“The teacher is a great person, however I don’t feel he knows how to teach what he knows.” (Seriously?)

He said he first felt betrayed by the students he had worked so hard to help, but then began to think realistically about how he could have done a better job.

Research

An online survey of 1,883 students from 10 European countries performed by Charles Belanger and Bernard Longden, showed that the gap between the expected and the experienced proved to be overwhelmingly significant. The study looked at an educator’s personality, classroom environment and teaching style. What they found out was that there was a gap of 35 percent between what students expected and what professors were able to deliver.

Although colleges and universities routinely survey students regarding their instructors, public schools do not.

Ironically, teachers are graded all the time by their students. Students talk to their parents and tell them about their teachers. Parents talk to other parents. Students even share what they think about their teachers on Facebook and on sites like www.RateMyTeachers.com.

Changes happening now

In Amanda Ripley’s The Atlantic article Why Kids Should Grade Teachers, we meet Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson, who proposed the idea of teachers being evaluated by the people who see them every day — their students. As revolutionary as the idea was, so were the results. There was remarkable consistency from grade to grade, and across racial divides. Even among kindergarten students.

Ripley explains that in 2012, a quarter-million students across the USA took a special survey designed to capture what they thought of their teachers and their classroom culture. The survey had been carefully field-tested and the research showed that if you asked kids the right questions, they could accurately identify the most — and least — effective teachers.

Surprising? Kids stare at their teachers for hundreds of hours a year.

Ferguson says that their survey answers were more reliable than any other known measure of teacher performance — including classroom observations and student test-score growth. This raised an uncomfortable new question: Should teachers be evaluated based in part on what children say about them?

Student input, test scores and observations

As some parents and all teachers know, not every teacher teaches a subject that produces scores. In the absence of test scores, a teacher typically gets their evaluation based on random administrative visits.

But even with available test data that show what students have learned, the key factor of why or why not they learned it is still elusive which lends nothing to teacher improvement. Using student surveys might allow teachers to focus on the means, not the ends — and give us tangible ideas about what we can fix right now — based on the voices of the people who sit in front of us all day long.

The most refreshing aspect of Ferguson’s survey might be that the results don’t change dramatically depending on students’ race or income, which is quite different with test data.

Being Open to Change

Johnson reminds us that when students are given the opportunity to share their perspective in a structured and meaningful way, they have the confidence to tell you what you may not want to hear.

He says “if you do get a response like, “We need a better teacher that actually knows what he is doing” — then take a deep breath, like I did, and figure out how to fix the problem.”

Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.

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