The education of youth in America is a top priority to ensure individual and nation-wide prosperity. There are a lot of debates about how best to provide students with a quality education, including how to determine the quality of a teacher and their instructive techniques.
According to an article in SFGate, the Stull Act of 1972 has been largely ignored. This piece of legislation requires all California school districts to use test results to evaluate teachers in conjunction with other student performance standards. At M-A, students and teachers are evaluated in various areas. “We look at overall data on student performance, including test scores, grades, attendance, awards and accomplishments,” says Principal Kennel. However, there is a consensus that raw test scores alone do not indicate adequate classroom instruction and student learning. For this, other methods must also be taken to assess teachers.
Obtaining a comprehensive evaluation of a teacher is difficult because the only people who truly experience a teacher’s methods are the students themselves. Because of this, some argue that the students themselves should play a role in giving feedback. The Learning Network section of the New York Times provides insight on how youth feel about this subject; students over the age of 13 were invited to comment on whether they should be offered the opportunity to evaluate their teachers. Scrolling through the comments, it became evident that students were overwhelmingly supportive. Students can help identify problems and give insight on a teacher’s instructional style. If the overall goal is to provide the best education for our students, shouldn’t the students have a voice? In some cases, students could help point out teachers who should be rewarded for their efforts. In others, it could provide a way for students to anonymously report issues with a teacher or regarding inappropriate behavior. In the student comments, a few mentioned how when members of the administration come sit in on a class that the teacher reminds students to “be on their best behavior” and pressure them into creating a fake, perfect atmosphere. In agreement, Joe F. wrote that allowing students to evaluate their teachers would help the administration “get a much more realistic picture” of how the teacher performs through the year. He later details a favorite teacher who was in his eyes unfairly fired. Student evaluations could help highlight good quality teachers and identify areas of improvement for others.
However, there are flaws with this system. Some view students as unqualified to evaluate teachers because they are not fully developed or mature learners, while teachers have collegiate experience in educational theory. In addition, opponents say that students may use such a system to sabotage teachers or perpetuate bias. It could also turn into a popularity contest and be less about teaching technique and style and more about bribes or how entertaining a class is. Furthermore, everyone has a different view of what characteristics they feel a ‘good’ teacher should have; some students may find a teacher to be fantastic, while others think he is awful. Also, if teachers feel threatened by their students’ opinions they may be less likely to try out new strategies or take risks for fear of receiving poor evaluations. At the same time, teachers can also be biased and inappropriately penalize students with poor grades. Another fact that should be considered is that teachers don’t want student evaluations. Kennel says that “teacher evaluations are negotiated with the teacher’s union.” However, teachers shouldn’t be exempt from receiving multiple forms of feedback or evaluations.
In the business world, people are evaluated by co-workers and customers to get feedback to improve. Many institutions are beginning to use 360 reviews, holistic assessments meant to fully measure an employee. These provide a balanced view of an employee’s contributions via feedback from the boss, peers, managers, and staff that the employee works with on a daily basis. If this was transferred to the academic world, perhaps teacher evaluations would involve different levels, from the administration to other teachers and also students to get a better view of a teacher’s competence.
Ultimately, teacher evaluations should identify and reward good teachers, judge quality, and find ways to improve. A teacher’s job is influential and their work can greatly affect the lives of the children in their classrooms. A student evaluations system could be used in addition to other current methods, as a supplement to ensure the best education for students.
This article is part of a series covering the role of grades in the lives of students. Click here to be redirected to the cover page.