If you want to help teachers become more effective in the classroom, use student surveys to ask them what they think of their teachers.
That’s a premise behind the efforts of Pittsburgh Public Schools to use student surveys for two classes of most K-12 teachers this school year.
“We believe that students who are in classrooms for the majority of the time and have classroom experience can provide teachers with valuable feedback,” said Jerri Lippert, chief academic officer for the district.
She said observers spend, at most, a few hours in a teacher’s classroom, but students are there day after day.
The student surveys are part of an effort to measure effective teaching and to provide teachers with useful information.
The district is working toward a new way to evaluate teachers, including classroom observation, student academic growth and student outcomes.
The results of the student surveys ultimately may become a portion of how teachers are evaluated.
Ms. Lippert said the district is “committed” to doing the student surveys. “The decision has to be made as to how much it counts for teacher evaluation.”
Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said she is “cautiously learning” about the student surveys.
“Student surveys are subject to so much interpretation. Some kids think you’re tough on them. You’re trying to help. How will they interpret that?” she said.
This effort has implications for other districts because statewide legislation has been proposed calling for the use of multiple measures in teacher evaluations. A challenge is finding meaningful measures.
For the student surveys, the district uses Tripod — named to represent the importance of three practices: content, pedagogy and relationships — which was developed by Ron Ferguson, a senior lecturer in education and public policy at Harvard University.
The student surveys have gained attention at least in part because the Measures of Effective Teaching project — funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — chose it as part of its study.
In a report issued in January, the MET project stated that combining classroom observation, student achievement gains and student feedback is better than just one measure alone.
Eleanor Chute has covered education for much of her career in journalism.
She joined The Pittsburgh Press in 1975, working most of the time as a reporter in a variety of areas, including education, until the paper closed in 1992.
She then joined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a reporter. She became interim education editor in 2004 and education editor in 2005.
She is a graduate of Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., where she majored in journalism and economics.