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Bright Ideas for Teacher Evaluation

Over the last few years, the teacher-evaluation debate has revolved mainly around whether—or to what extent—value-added scores should be involved. Since most researchers and educators agree an evaluation system needs multiple measures, there's also been some discourse around observations—how often they should occur and who should perform them. But for the most part, the same proposals for revamping evaluation systems have been recycled over and over.

However, just this week, two somewhat novel teacher-evaluation ideas crossed our desks here at Teacher. (A bizarre but pleasant surprise—not unlike the string of 60-degree days we've been enjoying this first week in February!)

Yesterday, we spoke with Ryan Balch, a former teacher and current Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University who is doing research on the use of student surveys in teacher evaluations. The idea of using student surveys in and of itself is not a novel one—in fact, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Measures of Effective Teaching project incorporates student feedback as well. But Balch says his survey, unlike others, allows students to be more objective in their answers by asking for the frequency of a teacher's behaviors rather than a qualitative judgment of them. Balch also uses screening procedures to eliminate surveys he deems outliers—generally ones in which students appear not to have read the questions.

Balch conducted a pilot survey with 250 schools in Georgia and found strong correlations between the survey answers and teachers' value-added rankings. His next challenge is to determine whether students might alter their answers if they know the results could affect teacher pay or job status.

As for the second idea, a hat tip goes to The Washington Post's Jay Mathews. In his blog Class Struggle, Mathews describes the "wild" idea for improving evaluations proposed by a (brace for it...) non-educator. Luke Chung, the president of a software development company who was asked to serve on an evaluation task force in a Virginia district, offered what's essentially a new spin on peer review. The idea leverages the fact that teachers, to some extent, are at the mercy of how effective their students' previous teachers were—"like a production line." Mathews explains:

Downstream teachers should assess upstream teachers, as Chung put it. That means a teacher should evaluate the teachers who had her students in their classes the year before by judging what those students brought with them to her class, including behavior, curiosity and other non-tested traits. ... Systems such as D.C. public schools rate teachers in part by how much each of their students improves on standardized tests, but a downstream teacher would probably see improvements the tests missed.

The idea was, not surprisingly, politely dismissed by the task force, writes Mathews. (Chung said the group thought it would be "foreign and frightening" for new teachers to be in a position to evaluate veterans. Seems like there might be some objectivity issues as well, to say the least.)

Have other seemingly novel teacher-evaluation ideas come your way? Should school and district leaders (and non-educators, for that matter, like Chung) be thinking outside the box, or are we already on the right track for designing the most effective teacher evaluations?

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