Point of View

How student input could help improve teaching

December 25, 2013 

On the issue of teacher accountability, political leaders and administrators have been emphasizing using actual data on student progress to evaluate a teacher’s performance, which in turn is linked to salaries and funding for the schools.

Numerous academic articles written by educators, administrators and nonprofit organizations outline complex schemes and charts for measuring a teacher’s performance. Most of these include items like student scores on end-of-grade or benchmark tests, improvement in student performance over the duration of course and in-class peer review. I have been a bit dejected to see that feedback from students has no place in such evaluations.

I have tutored students both at my school and in the neighborhood. This experience has helped me understand the value of student feedback, which can actually be highly constructive in improving the instructional performance of a teacher. Valuable feedback on my own performance from the students I tutored made me wonder: Where is student input in the process of evaluating teacher performance?

In fact, my perspective on the use of test scores for evaluating teacher performance is becoming increasingly cloudy. Private tutoring institutions prepare students with abundant practice materials to excel in tests. Consequently, test scores of privately tutored students should not be considered as a benchmark to evaluate a teacher’s performance in a classroom.

Teachers collaborate with one another to bring a consistency in classroom instruction. However, each teacher has a different way of organizing information. Some teachers complete the curriculum well ahead of a test and use the remaining time to review and improve student confidence by repeated practice. These teachers are also very savvy in evaluating student mistakes on homework and quizzes. Students can learn effectively by understanding their own mistakes.

Other teachers are not well-organized and struggle to complete the curriculum on time, leaving no room for review and practice. Students struggle when they don’t get to review their graded tests.

Student feedback can help teachers identify the pros and cons of different instruction methods.

For example, student feedback can also help in identifying specific areas or topics that benefit from technology-based teaching compared with the areas in which traditional teaching methods should be preferred.

As a student, I wonder whether the education experts of our country would ever consider including student feedback in the evaluation of teacher accountability. If colleges and universities consider it to improve the quality of instruction, why can’t high schools use the benefits of such feedback? It appears to be a critical piece of the puzzle that is missing in our pursuit of improving the high school educational experience.

It should be possible to create a highly objective and constructive set of questions focused on providing valuable feedback for a teacher to improve different aspects of a particular course and its instruction.

Based on discussions with my peers and teachers at the NC Governor’s School, I think such a questionnaire or feedback does not need to be generic for all the courses. Instead, each department can develop a different questionnaire based on the needs and the focus of the subject matter. The suggestion is to use student feedback as only one of the various aspects considered in the complete evaluation process.

It should also be possible to get a general idea of some gross deficiencies in a class as well as major achievements of certain instructional techniques. Let the student input count where it matters most.

Akul Gupta of Raleigh is a student at Athens Drive High School.

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