Kindergartners in Georgia — many of whom don’t yet read — could soon play an important role in deciding which teachers get raises or get fired. Under a new pilot program, 5-year-olds will be guided through a survey that includes such statements as “My teacher knows a lot about what he or she teaches” and “My teacher gives me help when I need it.” As the youngsters circle a smiley face, a neutral face or a frowning face, they will be playing their part in new high-stakes teacher evaluations.
The kindergartners could help put Georgia at the forefront of a growing national movement to make student surveys part of how teachers are rated. Students in every grade across the state will participate in the pilot program, and, depending on its results, Georgia may incorporate the student feedback into teacher evaluations as early as next school year, when it will join such measures as observations by principals and student test scores. The state has yet to determine how much weight the student evaluations will carry in teacher ratings.
Although Georgia is the only state so far to consider using students to grade teachers, individual school systems from Washoe County, Nev., to Pittsburgh are launching similar pilot projects. Memphis already counts student survey results as 5 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation. By the fall of 2013, that figure will be 10 percent in the Chicago public schools.
“The idea that student feedback can tell us something meaningful about classroom instruction is exceptionally important,” said Tim Daly, president of TNTP, a New York-based organization formerly known as The New Teacher Project. “The notion of taking direct input from students is a major development in evaluating teachers.”
D.C. officials have drawn wide attention for including a test score growth metric known as “value-added” in teacher evaluations. Student feedback, though, is not part of the formula.
“While we have piloted student surveys in a few of our schools this year solely as a means of giving teachers feedback on their performance, and plan to make them more widely available next year, we do not currently include them as part of our teacher evaluation system and have no immediate plans to do so,” said Jason Kamras, chief of human capital for D.C. schools.
Kids can be ‘quite biased’
Teacher evaluations have traditionally involved principals or other administrators observing a teacher once every few years. In many school systems, nearly all teachers earned satisfactory ratings, according to a TNTP report in 2009. But in light of research demonstrating that individual teachers are the most important in-school factor influencing student achievement, researchers and education officials nationwide are searching for the best way to identify teachers who need extra help.
Some research also suggests there is a relationship between student performance and what students say about teachers. But questions remain about how best to use these surveys — and how young is too young for students to take them.