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April 21, 2014

HAYDEN: Want better teacher ratings? Ask the kids

(Continued)

More than a decade ago, Ferguson started researching the use of classroom surveys to measure student engagement. He was looking for a way to narrow the race-based achievement gap. He ended up with a finely tuned survey of student perception that became a framework for incorporating student feedback into teacher evaluations.

Gramelspacher said he was surprised the first time he used a Ferguson-inspired survey of his teaching methods.

“They were brutally honest” he said of his students. “But it helped.”

The students were better observers of his teaching than his school principal, who’d visited his classroom an average of once a month, he found.

“They knew my strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “They pointed out weaknesses I didn’t know I had.”

He took their input to heart, changed some techniques, and now gives himself a higher grade.

A handful of school districts around the country are incorporating sophisticated student surveys into teacher evaluations, and they’re using the results to craft plans to help teachers improve. In doing so, they improve student results.

Gramelspacher is a true believer in student feedback. But he’s met plenty of skeptics, he said, especially among educators who think students are too immature, biased or just too mean to render a fair evaluation.

“Who do you serve as a teacher? You serve your students,” he said. “If you don’t value your students’ feedback, one, you’re not going to be a very good teacher, and two, maybe you’re in the wrong profession.

“If you don’t want to hear from your customers, then you’re in the wrong business.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MaureenHayden.

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