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The Importance of Student Voices

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It is so important that we listen to our front-line constituents to help us gain a better understanding of what needs to be done to improve our education systems. As I've written before, I think teachers should be involved as teacher evaluation programs are developed and implemented. I also believe student input is an important part of that process.

In the recent Atlantic article, "Why Kids Should Grade Teachers," Amanda Ripley does a great job of explaining the importance of having student voices be part of teacher evaluations. She writes: "Test scores can reveal when kids are not learning; they can't reveal why. They might make teachers relax or despair--but they can't help teachers improve." It seems that we continually miss the opportunity to hear from our kids. Some critics will argue that students will give tough teachers low ratings or will be vindictive against those they don't like. But it's been my experience, particularly with high school and middle school students, that kids will tell you which teachers are high performers, which ones are mediocre and need help and which ones need to exit the profession. And I have found that the students are usually right on target.

I'm not saying that student input should be the only source of a teacher's evaluations at this time, but it should be part of it. We are not ready to use student feedback as the only source for evaluations, even though there are models that show us the student feedback is accurate. (And college professors have been evaluated by their students for years.) Another thing to consider is the money we could save if students are getting it right and the methodology could be accepted.

Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson developed a student survey about ten years ago to evaluate teachers. The survey didn't gain much traction until the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation included it in the Measuring Effective Teaching (MET) project. In the MET project, student responses were accurate predictors of which classes would have the most test-score improvement at the end of the year.

The Atlantic article's conclusion about test scores not helping teachers improve seems to fit well with teachers' often-expressed opinion that the purpose of evaluations should be to guide improvement. And student voices can make a valuable contribution, even when the students are very young. The article includes questions for kindergarten kids. It looks like Ferguson is really on to something as we fight teacher evaluation battles across the country.

Beyond evaluations, student voices can teach us a lot in other areas. Kentucky Educational Television, for example, is hosting a panel of students to hear their opinions about the upcoming presidential election. I encourage you to watch these students share their opinions and I have no doubt that we will all learn from their insights.

As we continue advocating for excellence in education, student voices are not only needed, they are critical to the success of our efforts. If you have any doubts about the value of student voices, just watch the video of Eric H. on the Boyle County High School webpage as he shares his thoughts about education. I encourage each of you to involve students in your decision-making about the future of education in your communities.

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