Sunday September 30, 2012

In response to recent articles and opinions about the Chi cago teachers strike, I agree that standardized test scores alone are not an accurate measure of teacher effectiveness because they are affected by too many variables such as poverty, family priorities and (dis)organization, student mo tivation, even genetic recombination. But absolutely no one in this debate mentions or advocates the potentially most useful and accurate snapshot of teacher effectiveness -- the opinions of parents and the students themselves.

Designing evaluation rubrics that generate useful information and are age-appropriate would be a challenge. How ever, such feedback would be invaluable for teachers and would empower and involve students and their families. Of course, the union may argue that it would create an incentive to grade easily and avoid challenging students in order to ensure positive evaluations but that assumes a very low opinion indeed of teachers, students and parents. Over large numbers of responses, moderate and realistic apprais als will prevail.

When I was an undergraduate at Columbia, students, on their own as an initially underground effort without administration support, graded and commented on the effectiveness of their professors and published the report annually in a booklet distributed to the student body. The comments were measured and intelligent and it was extremely useful as a guide to selecting courses. I hope it helped our teachers calibrate and improve their performances as well.

Feedback from students and parents, in combination with test scores, administrative re views and teacher self-evaluations, would offer a far more nuanced and helpful measure of a teacher’s impact on students than the current debate is ever likely to produce.