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Another Way of Rating Teachers

Professors in colleges and universities are better known for the quality of their research than for the quality of their instruction. But the approach taken by a Boston University biomedical engineering professor stands out as a notable exception ("Feedback From Students Becomes a Campus Staple, but Some Go Further," The New York Times, Mar. 29).

Rather than wait until the semester is over, Muhammad Zaman asks his students to rate his instruction anonymously on a scale of one to five every other Monday. He prepares a graph of the responses and sends out an e-mail to all students in the class to tell them how he intends to respond to their comments. Although college professors have been rated online for years, Zaman is one of the few who correctly understands that frequent feedback is far more helpful. His strategy has paid off handsomely because he has seen his average ratings climb from 3s to 4s and 5s.

I think teachers in K-12 can benefit from the same practice. Ongoing feedback is always the most valuable because it allows teachers to modify their instruction to meet the specific needs and interests of students while they are still in the class. But equally important, collecting such data and making it readily available to parents and principals has the potential to counteract the obsession with standardized test scores as the sine qua non of teacher effectiveness. It shows that teachers are acting in good faith, rather than trying to avoid accountability, which is the usual argument made by reformers.

I'm not saying that reformers will drop their demand for wide dissemination of hard data about teacher effectiveness. But I think they will be more inclined to soften their insistence because the strategy is evidence of dedication to students and to the need for professional growth. It shows that teachers genuinely care about their performance.

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