Students to Evaluate Teachers as Part of New DC School Initiatives

You’ve likely heard of 360-degree feedback being used as part of employee evaluations. Your boss, your direct reports and, in some cases, your peers give you feedback on how you’re performing in your role.

While it’s commonplace among some corporations, it’s practically unheard of in the educational industry when it comes to students being given the opportunity to evaluate their teachers. That is until recently.

As reported by The Washington Post, D.C. Public Schools is on the brink of implementing extensive changes in how teachers are trained and evaluated — changes that will be closely watched by other school systems across the nation to see if they will result in measurable results.

The school system has been experimenting with various forms of education reform during the past 10 years, with traditional methods such as workshops being replaced by weekly small group meetings attended by teachers who are coached with expertise in their subject matters. The small setting allows them the opportunity to ask relevant questions, bring up issues in their classrooms, and adjust lesson plans.

D.C., which was among the first school systems in the nation to use student test scores as a factor in teacher evaluations, will become among the first in recent years to incorporate student surveys to determine how well teachers are performing. Also, D.C. has plans to use school principals to observe teachers in the classroom — a departure from using independent evaluators.

The changes are scheduled for implementation during the 2016-17 school year. According to Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group, the changes in D.C. could be instrumental in inspiring change at other school systems.

“The movement that we’re seeing in D.C. has implications for the entire nation,” Walsh said. “Most districts think that the way you prepare for Common Core standards is to teach about instructional shifts in some kind of generic pedagogical way that really doesn’t mean a lot to teachers.

“If you develop a system where you’re learning how to make those shifts in the context of learning about ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ that becomes meaningful to teachers — and actionable,” she said.

Student surveys as part of teacher evaluations is not new, however, it hasn’t been widespread. As a result, the effectiveness of using them has not been closely reviewed. However, the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study determined that student perception surveys could be effective in measuring a teacher’s effectiveness.

According to the three-year study, which was sponsored by the Gates Foundation, there are several benefits to students evaluating teachers. Researchers concluded, “Although an individual student may have a less sophisticated understanding of effective instruction than a trained observer, student feedback has two other advantages that contribute to reliability: students see the teacher all year (and, therefore, are less susceptible to lesson to lesson variation), and the measures are averaged over 20 to 75 students, rather than 1 or 2 observers.”

In a nutshell, the study determined “students know an effective classroom when they experience one.”