Bill Gates: Student Feedback Key in Teacher Evaluation

August 2nd, 2012

Category: Policy and Practice

Ask Bill Gates what he believes the most critical ingredients in a teacher evaluation system are.  His response may surprise you.  Last month, I attended the Education Commission of the States National Forum on Education in Atlanta, GA, where Mr. Gates was the keynote speaker.  There, he argued that within a reliable teacher evaluation system there must be multiple inputs anchored in student achievement determine teacher effectiveness.  These multiple measures include student surveys of perceptions of the classroom instructional environment, peer-teacher classroom observations, and teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge.

When it comes to student surveys, Mr. Gates stressed the importance of “asking students the right questions.”  He cited the Tripod survey instrument by Harvard researcher Ron Ferguson, an integral part of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, an initiative funded by the Gates Foundation, which measures the extent to which students experience the classroom environment as engaging, demanding, and supportive of their intellectual growth. The survey asks students in the classrooms of the more than 3,000 participating teachers if they agree or disagree with a variety of statements, including “My teacher knows when the class understands, and when we do not” and “My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in this class.”

Bill Gates made it clear that student feedback is only one element in the evaluation, and it, alone, certainly cannot be the only element.  He hopes, however, that student feedback allows teacher evaluations to move beyond teacher evaluations and test scores and into the realm of thoughtful conversations about effective teaching practices. 

As a member of the audience, I was seated next to several state teachers of the year.  It was clear to me they were split on the issue of student feedback and how it can be used as an effective evaluation tool.  One teacher quietly mentioned her concerns about surveying students in classrooms with “challenging” students.  Right now, the Tripod has only been used in 3,000 classrooms.  Pittsburgh, PA, for example, has incorporated the Tripod into its classrooms; however, it is not yet part of the formal evaluation system for its teachers. 

Currently, Delaware does not account for student feedback in DPAS II.  As places like Pittsburgh make the Tripod part of their teacher evaluation system, it will be important for Delaware to keenly observe the impact it has, as part of an evaluation system that embraces multiple measures, and consider if and how student feedback could work in the First State.

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Matthew Korobkin



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