What Makes A Good Teacher? Ask The Students!

Much of the 2010 education news has revolved around teacher evaluation. What makes a good teacher? How can you evaluate teachers? Is merit pay a good thing?

Students Know A Good Teacher When They See One

Well, how about asking the students? According to preliminary results released earlier this month, from a $45 million research project, the views of the students are a good way of distinguishing good teachers from bad.

As a teacher with over 20 years in the classroom, I have to question why these researchers deemed this such an innovative idea. Checking in with your students periodically seems like a no-brainer.

Student Views Correlate With Value-Added Ratings

That said, the results of this research are interesting.

From The New York Times:

Teachers whose students described them as skillful at maintaining classroom order, at focusing their instruction and at helping their charges learn from their mistakes are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores, according to a progress report on the research.

Financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the two-year project involves scores of social scientists and some 3,000 teachers and their students in Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Denver; Hillsborough County, Fla., which includes Tampa; Memphis; New York; and Pittsburgh.

The research is part of the $335 million Gates Foundation effort to overhaul the personnel systems in those districts.

Statisticians began the effort last year by ranking all the teachers using a statistical method known as value-added modeling, which calculates how much each teacher has helped students learn based on changes in test scores from year to year.

Now researchers are looking for correlations between the value-added rankings and other measures of teacher effectiveness.

What Is Value-Added?

“Value-added rankings” is the buzz phrase in education currently, especially after The Los Angeles Times released those rankings on about 6,000 Los Angeles elementary school teachers and 470 elementary schools.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers who taught at least 60 students from the 2002-03 through 2008-09 academic years were evaluated in the Times analysis.

A teacher’s value-added rating is based on his or her students’ progress on the California Standards Tests for English and math. The difference between a student’s expected growth and actual performance is the “value” a teacher added or subtracted during the year.

Outrage In Los Angeles

Teachers and UTLA, the Los Angeles Teachers’ Union, were outraged at the publication of these scores, and there is indeed reason to be concerned. One big issue is the model used for “value-added,” since there are several possible ways to configure those scores.

And an even bigger issue – to evaluate teachers based solely on standardized test scores is wrong. All testing experts agree that it’s important to take several measures into account when evaluating teachers and students.

Even so, this Gates-funded research has produced some clear early results. Students were asked to fill out confidential questionnaires about the learning environment their teachers create. Turns out that there was quite a bit of agreement between the students’ ratings and the teachers’ value-added scores.

For example, classrooms where a majority of students said they agreed that “Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time” were in general led by teachers with high value-added scores.

Get Rid Of ‘Drill And Kill’

Another interesting finding: according to Vicki L. Phillips, a director of education at the foundation, teachers who incessantly drill their students to prepare for standardized tests tend to have lower value-added scores.

“Teaching to the test makes your students do worse on the tests,” Ms. Phillips said. “It turns out all that ‘drill and kill’ isn’t helpful.”

Memo To Bill Gates: Try Asking Teachers About Their Classrooms

Some of us teachers could have told you that already, although it must be said that teaching to the test is not the same as preparing your students for a test. I routinely prepare my students for quizzes and tests, but I don’t use the ‘drill and kill’ method.

Memo to Bill Gates: try asking teachers what are good ways to evaluate them. You might actually get some useful responses.

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Photo credit: Creative Commons - hoyasmeg


Ann P.
A P7 years ago

While I voted yes, it clearly can't be the only measure.

Christa Heck
Christa Heck7 years ago

Test scores are rubbish, especially, multiple choice and true false. It appears that the purpose of teching is to get students to pass the test. If a teacher has a passion for a subject, it transfers to the students and leaning can be fun instead of a chore. Stndardization can ruin a good education. The test of a subject should be: can you teach what you have learned so far?

Petra Luna
Petra Luna7 years ago

While it may be good to get the opinions of the kids, I really don't think it's the greatest idea. It's not like we get to go to work and rate our own bosses, and if we don't like them, get another one.

Melanie Clark
Melanie Clark7 years ago

Read and noted. Thanks.

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

While if you're talking about good students, this is a good way to find out. But remember, the kids might like a certain teacher for different reasons. Teachers are well liked by students for one of 2 reasons, they're good to a fault, or they're fun. The good to a fault teachers are the ones that teach every student, even that unreachable one. The fun ones might be catering to the popular ones.

Just because a teacher isn't getting high marks from the students means they're bad. For example, I had a history teacher in high school, that warned us that we might not remember what we learned in his class for the semester or year. But we need to be good students in life. One way to be able to keep learning is to use "context clues"... And he sometimes got snickered at by the students, and not the most popular. Darn if he isn't right on the mark, that I don't remember what he taught about history, but, I do remember needing to use the context clues on a regular basis. That's a good teacher...

Claudia McCall
Claudia McCall7 years ago

The best teachers I ever had questioned my pre-conceived notions and challenged me to think for myself. In so doing, they superseded the subjects they were allegedly instructors of, and taught me larger truths that have long outlasted, and been more useful than Pythagorean theorems, diagramming sentences, and irregular Spanish verbs. These teachers were rare and cherished. God bless them.

Danuta W.
Danuta W7 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Kathlene Lentz
Kathlene Lentz7 years ago

A good teacher is one who listens to their students, knows when there is something awry with a particular student, and is willing to work with that student. There are not many of those kind left these days. My son is ADHD and has some particularly bad habits when it comes to studying and homework (the mother that raised him didn't much care). Trying to get this through to his teachers, and trying to change his habits, is a constant struggle. Many of his teachers have told me that the child has to "learn to conform" and are unwilling to work with him. Those are NOT good teachers!

Stephanie A.
Stephanie A.7 years ago

Thanks for posting this...Teachers are our unsung heroes. The teacher's I have observed to be most successful, are those who teach to the students needs, not to the needs of the state or government. Standardized testing, bench mark tests, etc have taken the person and personality out of teaching..Stephanie Alt, MS Of 2 Minds Coaching and Counseling

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado7 years ago

I had a few good teachers who inspired students to excel in our studies.