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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Top marks for low expectations: 'Rate your teacher' surveys could backfire

Asking students to rate their teachers is a dubious way to evaluate teachers' competence, writes Vladimir Kogan, a Ohio State political science professor, on Education Next.


The Obama administration's Race to the Top grants "incentivized states to adopt rigorous evaluation systems designed to measure and reward teacher contributions to student learning," Kogan writes.


"With a few notable exceptions, such as the highly regarded IMPACT system in Washington, D.C.," it didn't work well. A recent analysis found "null effects" for state-level systems.


Reformers hoped to assess the “value added” to student test scores, a method that compares a student's previous progress to the progress for the current year. But value-added can be calculated only for a minority of teachers, he writes. "Most do not teach grade levels and subjects where standardized tests are administered annually." So ratings were based on "subjective measures of performance."


"Some accountability hawks are now pinning their hopes on student surveys," he writes. Dallas' teacher evaluation system, considered a national model by some reformers, uses student surveys. For example, middle and high school students are asked to evaluate the teachers' expectations, fairness, depth of subject knowledge, frequency of helpful feedback, clarity of instruction and positive or negative "energy," among other factors.


Northwestern economist Kirabo Jackson, has shown that test scores are only one measure of how teachers can affect student outcomes, he writes. In Chicago high schools, student surveys reflect "important dimensions of school quality, including school climate, that affect not just student achievement but also outcomes such as high school graduation rates and criminal-justice involvement."


However, survey scores did not predict improvements in academic achievement in a Measures of Effective Teaching analysis, writes Kogan. Researchers suggested "caution" in using surveys to evaluate teacher effectiveness.


Finally, he writes, "teaching to the test" could be replaced by “teaching to the survey.”

Letting students weigh in on teacher evaluations, as is done under the Dallas model, is a great way to encourage teachers to do more of what students want. But whether those changes lead to improvements in instructional quality is another matter, and there are many reasons to expect that they won’t.

At the college level, there's evidence student evaluations contribute to grade inflation, writes Kogan. "Student responses appear to reflect their satisfaction with grades (higher is better!) and the effort required in the course (less is better!)." (Professors who bring sweets to class on survey days get a significant boost in evaluation scores.)


Expectations are low enough in K-12 since the pandemic without encouraging teachers to go even lower, he writes.


College surveys also show bias against female, non-white and non--native English-speaking instructors, writes Kogan. They are "inherently subjective." By contrast, technology, such as "using AI to classify and score recorded lesson videos" could "remove much of the personal discretion from teaching observations."


The California Teachers Association is pushing a bill that would eliminate all performance assessment of teachers, reports Diana Lambert on EdSource. The bill "would do away with the California Teaching Performance Assessment, known as the CalTPA, through which teachers demonstrate their competence via video clips of instruction and written reflections on their practice. "

7 Comments


Craig Randall
Craig Randall
Mar 11

At what point to teachers get to rate the parents of their students? If parents then receive enough poor ratings, are they held to account?


Then don't do it to the teachers, because this is how it will devolve: Teachers who are less focused on rigor and more on "likes" will be the highest-rated, while those who are highly competent and strive to instill choice and accountability into the curriculum will be penalized by today's lowest common denominator student populations.

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Heresolong
Heresolong
Mar 08

"College surveys also show bias against female, non-white and non--native English-speaking instructors"


Unless they are assuming that all teachers are equally good and then drawing conclusions from the data this statement is most likely false. Case in point the non native English-speaking grad student instructor I had in a 300 level engineering class at UW in the 80s. Not one person in the class had any idea what he was saying so we had to go figure out the math on our own. That was not a bias, it was a reality of the poor instruction he provided.

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buy
Mar 08

This does get worse, BTW, because things like this are also creeping into medicine. More and more "patient experience" scores are being tied in to MD retention, bonuses, and insurance pay-outs. A couple bad "reviews" from a patient could mean loss of job or lower compensation for an MD or the hospital.


So, when a drug-seeking patient comes along begging for a drug they saw advertised on TV, but which the MD doesn't think is appropriate...or when they ask for something stronger...will the MD strictly rely on their professional judgement, or will they be thinking about maybe getting a bad review from the patient? And, will they be pressured to comply with patient wishes by their employer who has to…


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obiwandreas
Mar 09
Replying to

It has long been known in medicine that patient satisfaction correlates negatively with patient outcomes, particularly with mortality.

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m_t_anderson
Mar 08

Teachers "teaching to the survey?" Un-possible!


Next thing you'll be telling me is that criminals in prison often claim to be reformed or reborn to get parole. And then proceed to commit more crimes. Unheard of!

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Darren Miller
Darren Miller
Mar 08

I don't often talk about "de-professionalizing" teaching, but if anyone ever wanted to "de-professionalize" teaching, this is the way to do it. I won't even list all the ways this is a bad idea, as they should be intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer.

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buy
Mar 08
Replying to

I read some of Greg Ashman's work on professionalizing teaching, and it's refreshing.


Ann in L.A.

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