Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Student Voice in Teacher Evaluation

While we are on the subject....One problem is that many districts and schools do not have a culture or history of meaningful student voice. Rarely are students invited to take a seat at the table where meaningful decisions are made--despite the fact that nearly all meaningful decisions made will in some way impact them. Students opinions are listened to, if they are listened to at all, more or less informally: A complaint that a certain teacher is "uber-boring" or praise for a teacher who "rocks".  It would be a stretch to call such feedback a "system". The traditional forum for student voice is student council, yet nationally only 30% of students in grades 6-12 say that student council represents all students. Student councils in many schools are popularity contests that go on to plan parties and proms. 37% of students say they know the goals their school is working on this year. So when it comes to students evaluating teachers, the fear of students being unfair or not serious are real and born of the unknown.  "We've never done it that way before."

This can be a genuine chicken and egg issue.  In the absence of a school climate that takes student voice seriously, teachers fear students will not be responsible when asked for their input. Yet schools that do not ask for student input at this level, are hard pressed to develop a culture that takes student voice seriously. For many schools, student opinion surveys like My Voice are a safe place to start taking students’ opinions seriously, provided they follow the survey with concrete actions based on the results.

The My Voice survey, while it does not provide student evaluation of any particular teacher, is used to assess the overall effectiveness of the teaching and administrative staff in providing Self-Worth, Active Engagement, and a sense of Purpose for all students. These are tangible measures of a school’s teaching and learning environment and can be used, in turn, to set goals for individual teachers (e.g., to get to know the out of school interests of five students this month, to allow students to choose from among four novels to read instead of assign one, to let students select the destination of this year’s field trip). Beginning in this way is a step towards a culture that allows students to evaluate their teachers in ways that are meant to advance the mission of the school, not threaten teachers’ livelihoods.

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