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Most Teachers Say Feedback Has Improved Their Instruction, Survey Finds

A new national survey sheds some light on how teachers value evaluative feedback, finding that most teachers do think they have made improvements to their practice as a result of their evaluation system. 

The report by the RAND Corporation examines teachers' perceptions of feedback, observations, and teacher evaluation systems. The report uses data from an October 2016 survey of the American Teacher Panel, which is a randomly selected, nationally representative panel of public school teachers who take periodic surveys. This time, 1,825 teachers completed the survey on evaluations. 

The report notes that about two-thirds of states have made changes to their teacher evaluation policies since 2009, when a seminal report found that 99 percent of all teachers were being rated as "satisfactory." Also that year, the Obama administration began its Race to the Top program, which offered states financial incentives to include student-test data in their evaluation systems.

As of 2017, the RAND report says, 39 states required the use of student achievement-growth measures in teacher evaluations. (Still, there are signs that this tide is changing: Education Week reported this fall that six states have dropped requirements that evaluations include student-growth measures over the past two years.) 

Most evaluations are based on multiple measures of performance, including classroom observations and student surveys. The report says there have been few surveys on a national scale that show how teachers respond to evaluation and feedback, making this information important for policymakers.

"Paying attention to teachers' perceptions of the feedback they receive and the systems (both formal and informal) used to evaluate their performance is critical for understanding how schools and districts can successfully translate evaluation and feedback into improved teaching practices," the report says.

The survey found that 88 percent of teachers said they received feedback at least once in the 2015-16 school year, and 35 percent reported receiving it a couple times or more per year. Feedback from formal classroom observations was the most common source, but a large percentage of teachers said they had received informal feedback from other teachers or school leaders at least a few times a month. Only a few teachers—22 percent—said they received feedback from student surveys. 

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 5.00.04 PM.png

Teachers said it was more helpful to receive feedback from other teachers than school leaders—86 percent compared to 74 percent. Receiving feedback from an instructional coach or mentor was less common—only 36 percent of teachers reported getting it from this source—but among those who did receive this type of feedback, 82 percent said it was helpful. 

The report notes that fellow teachers and coaches might provide more subject-specific feedback than a school leader would.

The RAND study found that teachers at high-poverty schools receive feedback from school leaders, coaches, mentors, and peers more frequently than their peers at more affluent schools. Among all teachers, more secondary school teachers received feedback than elementary teachers—but elementary teachers reported receiving feedback more frequently. Elementary teachers were more likely to get feedback from school leaders, while secondary school teachers received informal feedback from students more often. 

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 6.05.39 PM.pngOverall, 76 percent of teachers said they made improvements to their instructional practices as a direct result of their evaluations. Teachers who were observed more frequently were more likely to report an improvement. Similarly, teachers who received feedback more frequently thought their schools' evaluation systems improved their instruction.

Most teachers—88 percent—say that their schools' teacher evaluation system has been fair to them, but only 67 percent say that evaluation systems are fair to all teachers. Teachers who believed that evaluation systems were meant to promote their growth and development were more likely to rate those systems as fair.

Finally, more than half of teachers found the resources related to their schools' evaluation systems—including leadership support, time, instructional support, and technology—to be sufficient. But at least one-third of teachers say they have received insufficient resources for their evaluation systems.

Some of these findings coincide with a recent RAND report that examined the results of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's multi-million-dollar, multi-year effort to make teachers more effective through evaluation reform. The work largely fell short of its goal to increase student achievement. It was difficult to get stakeholder buy-in for these high-stakes evaluation reforms, researchers concluded, pointing to a time burden on administrators as an additional challenge.

What Policy Implications Do These Findings Have? 

The RAND researchers conclude the report with four main takeaways: 

  • Since teachers tend to consider informal feedback from peers and coaches to be more helpful, school leaders should consider how much emphasis to place on formal versus informal feedback.
  • When teachers receive feedback and observations more frequently, they tend to view the evaluation systems in a more positive light. But this creates a time burden on administrators. The study suggests that one solution could be involving other teachers, coaches, and mentors as classroom observers and feedback providers.
  • One way to get teacher buy-in might be to highlight how these evaluation systems are trying to promote development and growth, the study says.
  • Policymakers and district leaders should also consider how to provide teachers with sufficient resources, including time, to fully benefit from these evaluation systems.

The Gates Foundation funded this research. Education Week receives financial support from the Gates Foundation for coverage of continuous improvement strategies in education. Education Week retains sole editorial control of its content.

Charts via RAND report

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