Children Evaluating Teachers

Bored By Citizens' Comments

This past week, across the district, and at all grade levels, children as young as eight-years old (3rd grade) have been told to take yet more time out of what’s left in the year to fill out an evaluation on their teachers. Our children are evaluating our teachers.

Once again, following the failing lead of other “reformers” across the nation, (you know, whether they produce results or, as in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., not) Huntsville has picked up the practice of having children evaluate their teachers.

You see, on Tuesday, my child came home from school worried. She had been asked to fill out an evaluation on her classroom teacher, her S.P.A.C.E. teacher, her P.E. teacher, and even her librarian, and she was worried that she might have answered some of the questions wrong. In all she said that it took her class about 45 minutes to complete these surveys on everyone. Since she was worried about her answers, I asked her if she could remember any of the questions. She could remember a few, but more importantly, she remembered the web address of the survey which was: www.research.net/s/XN26PWD (The survey is now closed, thank goodness, but it was open for the majority of the week and could be accessed by anyone from anywhere.)

So we typed it in and found this.

Mt. Gap P-8 Spring Student Survey 2013Mt. Gap P-8 Spring Student Survey 2013

(Yes, my daughter has the ability to remember obscure web addresses, especially when they bother her and she has to type them in numerous times. Just imagine how much fun she is to be around when I forget that I promised to bring her something!) By the way, one small benefit of the computers is that you can check your child’s history to see what they’re doing on the computers during school each day. It seems that it might be a wise thing to start doing so.

Here are the questions she was asked to answer about three of her teachers and her librarian, each of whom she adores.

  1. expects students to work hard in this class.
  2. explains difficult things clearly.
  3. we learn a lot almost every day.
  4. we learn to correct our mistakes.
  5. makes lessons interesting.
  6. checks to make sure we understand what s/he is teaching us.
  7. creates an environment where students feel safe.
  8. enforces the same rules for all students.
  9. are [sic] positive with students.
  10. spends a lot of time practicing for the state test.
  11. call [sic] students by their names.
  12. makes me feel that s/he really cares about me.
  13. really tries to understand how students feel about things.
  14. greet [sic] students when entering the classroom.
  15. give [sic] students opportunities to speak up and share their ideas about classwork.
  16. maintain [sic] eye contact with students when talking with them.
  17. respects my ideas and suggestions.
  18. Are you tutored outside of school to help you learn this teacher’s subject?

She was worried that she had answered number ten, in particular, wrong. You can see how confusing it would be for a nine-year old, can’t you? After all we’ve been told repeatedly that our teachers aren’t teaching to the test, yet now students are being asked if their teachers are doing exactly that. She was also worried that when we work together each night on her homework that she was being tutored outside of school.

Of course, most of these questions do not apply to either her P.E. teacher or her librarian.

(And really, would it kill someone in the central office to proofread the surveys before posting them? The subjects and verbs of your sentences really do have to agree in number and person.)

What’s Not Wrong With This Survey

Surprise! Nope I don’t think it’s entirely wrong to ask a student for an opinion/assessment of a teacher. I’m a teacher myself. There is absolutely nothing that I value more than my students’ assessments of my teaching. When a student tells me either directly or indirectly that something I did in class just didn’t work, I listen.

You see, that’s what teaching is: listening to your students and modifying your pedagogical approach according to their responses. If I look up and see that the class is nodding off during an 8:00 am class, I’ll change my approach to the class to help them gain the most that they can from the class. When I get that look of complete bewilderment from a student, I pause, back up, and ask them what they are having difficulty with. When I see the light bulbs clicking on, I cherish the moment and ask them to share their understanding with the class so that maybe more lightbulbs will light up.

I even look forward to the formal assessments during the semester when students take a couple of minutes to fill out a questionnaire like the one above.

But then again, I teach adults, and it isn’t necessary for the proctor of the survey to explain to my students what question 16 means, and that they don’t have to answer “Sometimes” just because I once had an eyelash in my eye when they asked me a question once. Unlike 3rd graders, adults are usually slightly less literally minded.

Getting student feedback can be useful to a teacher, but this feedback does not need to be assessed by the district. The teacher could develop an assessment like this on her own and give it to a partner teacher to administer one day. The feed back would be far more useful than the responses above.

What Is Wrong With This Survey

They’re asking adult questions of children.

Most of the questions on this survey are fairly standard. Does the teacher have high expectations of the student? Does the teacher explain things clearly, or make class interesting? These are all good questions to ask a student about his or her teacher. Honestly, I often ask similar questions of my daughter when she comes home. I want to know what she thinks of her teachers. Her opinion does matter.

However, her opinion is still the opinion of a child. As such, despite my complete trust in her (she’s earned it), I do not base my opinion of her teacher on the answers that she gives me one day during the year. She’s a child. If you ask her at 8:15am if her teacher expects her to work hard in the class, she would might say no because she had just aced the spelling test for the week. Ask her again at 1:45pm after a math quiz that she hadn’t prepared for, and you’ll get a completely different answer.

This is, at best, a single snap-shot of an opinion of a person whose opinions change moment by moment.

One size doesn’t fit all.

This is the same survey that the district sent to both 3rd graders and 8th graders. I’m fairly certain that it is the same survey that was given to 12th graders as well. Children’s minds and how they process information change as they grow older. What an 18 year old understands is not the same thing as an 8 year old understands. So a throw away, simple question about eye-contact that an 18 year old would answer quickly, an eight-year old must struggle over as she thinks back to every single time the teacher has spoken to her.

This is particularly true of special education students. And in case you are wondering, yes, special education teachers were evaluated using this survey as well. Imagine how a child on the autism spectrum might answer the question about eye-contact?

Furthermore, can someone explain to me why we’re asking students if their P.E. teacher or librarian spends “a lot of time practicing for the state test?”

A poorly designed assessment tool will usually produce poor and unreliable results (but then, that’s pretty clearly the purpose here, isn’t it?)

It puts pressure on the students.

My daughter was worried that she had put the wrong answer down, and that those answers might hurt the people she loves. Even the children, in other words, knew that the purpose of this survey wasn’t to help the teachers but was rather to hurt them.

And just so you don’t think that this fear of putting the wrong thing down was just my daughter’s response (and that I might have influenced her to think that someone is out to get our teachers), I have heard the same concern from parents of other students all across the district.

Our children know that our teachers are being attacked by the district. They may not have the words to make this clear, but they know it.

It is being used to attack teachers rather than support them.

Take a look at question 18 again. “Are you tutored outside of school to help you learn this teacher’s subject?” This question, along with question 10, “spends a lot of time practicing for the state test” are clearly designed to be “gotcha” questions. Certainly the only reason a student might need extra tutoring “to help you learn this teacher’s subject” would be if the teacher were failing to adequately teach his or her subject.

If a student had a good teacher, that student would never need additional help outside of school, would they? This is just like the supporters of Common Core claiming that the fact that some students need remediationbefore starting their college classes is a sign that our high schools aren’t doing their jobs.

District Falsely Claims Survey Helps Teachers

The district claimed, in an email sent to a parent, that the information gained from the survey “is not used to evaluate teachers, but as a measure to help teachers understand student’s perceptions of the teacher and instruction.”

This would be wonderful, if only it were true.

You see this isn’t the first time that the district has asked students to evaluate their teachers. They also did it last year, but as I did not have a child in 3rd grade last year, I didn’t hear about it.

But it did happen. Teachers all across the district were assessed by students, and you know what happened with that information? No?

Well, guess what, you’re in good company. No one else knows what happened with that data either. So you see if the district’s assertion that the surveys will be used “as a measure to help teachers understand students” sounds good, but it only works if the teachers who were evaluated by students last year get to see the results of that evaluation. 

So far, I have found not one teacher surveyed last year who has received the results of that student survey.

And so, if the information isn’t being shared with the teachers, how, exactly, is it being used? If the district representative who wrote a parent who asked about the survey was wrong about it being used to “help,” what else was she wrong about?

This survey, like the STAR Enterprise, isn’t being used to benefit your child’s education. At best, it’s simply limiting the time your child’s teacher has to teach. At worse, like the STAR Enterprise test, these opinions are being used to hurt your child’s teacher.

The bottom line, however is this: the survey took time away, again, from your child’s education, and it provided no educational benefit to your child.

Wasted Time

This past Wednesday, a teacher in Huntsville City Schools posted a comment on Facebook. In this comment, this teacher made an ironic and poignant point:

Too Much Testing

Time. It really is all about time, and our kids don’t have much left in this school year. And the district is filling the little time they have left with pointless surveys and meaningless testing.

And please, someone tell me what other job in the world gets evaluated by eight-year olds? I’ve seen the list of people who were evaluated with the survey displayed above. The superintendent wasn’t on the list. Neither were any of the district personnel, nor were any administrative personnel at the school.

If our student’s perceptions of teachers and instruction are so important, why hasn’t the superintendent subjected himself to the same evaluation by his students? He does, after all, often call himself the top teacher of the district. How could he ever know, how could the board ever know, if he’s doing the right thing without asking an eight-year old?

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

11 Comments

  1. On the high school surveys, which I believe asked the same questions, students had access to surveys on all teachers at their school, regardless of whether they had that particlar teacher. In addition, as long as the survey link was open, they could fill out as many evaluations on any or all teachers. So, if you had a teacher you didn’t like for whatever reason, you could submit, say 30 bad evaluations on that teacher……

  2. ” By the way, one small benefit of the computers is that you can check your child’s history to see what they’re doing on the computers during school each day. It seems that it might be a wise thing to start doing so.”

    Agreed.

  3. I am a HCS teacher. Like those Russell mentioned, I did not see the results of last year’s evaluations and I doubt I will see the results this year. This kind of survey is being done in many districts across our country.

    Also note, on the day the survey was conducted in most classes at my school, I was in the restroom and overheard a conversation between several students. They were talking about the survey and how they marked their answers. One girl speaking loudly said, “I gave Mrs. ______ all nevers. (the lowest mark) I just hate that b _ _ _ h.” Just so you know, the b _ _ _ _ h she was referring to was me! I calmly came out of the stall, washed my hands, and exited the restroom with a smile on my face.

  4. As a teacher, I would like to evaluate my principal and superintendent with the same questions.

    1. expects teachers to work hard in this class. Yes, but as a teacher I would do it anyway. I am here for the kids!
    explains difficult things clearly. No, teachers are not explained anything. Dr. W. does it his way or no way. He explains NOTHING!!! I can say the same thing for my principal. She doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing, but I must act like I’m the stupid one. Acting any other way either puts a target on your back, or it only makes things worse for you.
    3. we learn a lot almost every day. Oh, I learn everyday. Dr. W. and the board are complete idiots! I do not want to be like Dr. W., the board or my principal.
    4. we learn to correct our mistakes. No, I can’t say that I learn to correct my mistakes. We (teachers) don’t get feedback from the evaluations our students performed on us. Also, in my case, my principal doesn’t provide me feedback from her observations.
    5. makes lessons interesting. Dr. W. and my principal sure do make lessons interesting. What they teach me is to NEVER be like them. 6. checks to make sure we understand what s/he is teaching us. Dr. W. never has asked me to understand his reasoning. I couldn’t even if he tried to explain it to me.
    7. creates an environment where teachers feel safe. No, No, No. I am working in a hostile environment! Dr. W. could care less about me and the same goes for my principal (after all, he did hand select her). I can only speak for my school, but discipline is a joke. We must get permission from the principal to give detention. She might or might not sign the form. If she does and the parent cannot pick the child up from school at the end of detention, NO detention for that child. We as teacher have been told not to speak to the media. Students have been given in-school suspension. Their parents decided not to send them on those days. What was done I ask you? NOTHING!
    8. enforces the same rules for all teachers. No, No, No…Dr. W. has his favorites just like my principal.
    9. are [sic] positive with teachers. You’ve got to be kidding. I have never heard a positive thing spew forth from the man’s mouth. His goal seems to be how many teachers he can make miserable enough to retire.
    10. spends a lot of time practicing for the state test. I cannot speak for Dr. W., but I can for myself. I am under constant pressure to teach to the test. Read here….math and reading. It doesn’t matter if it’s for the STAR test or a state test. Reading and math are the subjects that count. The state standards say I must teach all subjects, but according to my principal, I need to concentrate on those two subjects.
    11. call [sic] teachers by their names. Are you kidding? The man has never been in my classroom. He only went into the chosen teacher’s classroom. When I say chosen, I mean my principal’s favorite teacher.
    12. makes me feel that s/he really cares about me. Again, No, No, No! Dr. W. doesn’t have a heart. The only thing he cares about is the precious test scores!!!!!!
    13. really tries to understand how teachers feel about things. NO!!! He simply doesn’t care how we feel. I have learned not to voice my concerns to my principal or him. That is only asking for trouble.
    greet [sic] teachers when entering the classroom. Dr. W. has never been in my classroom. The classrooms he enters are hand selected.
    give [sic] teachers opportunities to speak up and share their ideas about classwork. Again, NO, NO, NO !!! (Do you see a pattern here? ) Teachers are not allowed to speak their mind about anything for fear of losing their job. The only way a teacher can feel safe about speaking his/her mind is either when the teacher is retiring or agrees with Dr. W. and the principal.
    16. maintain [sic] eye contact with teachers when talking with them. NO!
    17. respects my ideas and suggestions. You have got to be kidding. My idea DOES NOT count.
    18. Are you tutored outside of school to help you learn this superintendent/principal’s subject? No, nor would I want to be tutored. There is no amount of money to make me want to think like this man thinks. He has no real clue about educating children.

  5. In all of this madness it’s the children that will suffer for most of their future and it will take the system a long time to recover because the real experts will be somewhere else doing what’s best for the children.

  6. Taking cue from teachernhiding, I’m going to draft a survey myself. It will contain straightforward questions regarding performance, teaching environment, teacher/administration interaction, etc. It will also contain a section focused on parent feedback. It won’t be long or cumbersome, and it will include a commnets box at the end for anything that wants to be added. I would like to have this emailed out to as many teachers and parents as possible (Im sure I’ll need help with this). When the results come back, we’ll compile them and present them to the Board. We’ll announce these at all the PTA meetings. Perhaps that Huntsville Times writer would like to follow up on them as well? And a courtesy copy will be sent to the Alabama State Dept. of Education. How much longer do we want to sit back and get pushed around??

  7. I see that RUssell posted a blog this morning that offers up a survey similar to what I wrote about yesterday. I’ll stand down my effort on this now that I know you have already put this in place. Thank you!! How do we get this survey into the hands of teachers and parents throughout the community? By the way, I was in a conference with several teachers yesterday and indeed the loathinn, fear, and angst is evident and real. One even said she is counting down the days until she can retire (4 years from now!) and get the hell out of this system. Our wonderful school system environment compliments of Dr. W and his crew.

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