, Gloucester, MA

December 12, 2012

My View: Children can evaluate schools, too

My View
Richard Safier

---- — Education should not be a “top-down” business.

By this I mean that, whenever possible, we want students to be actively involved in the classroom, not just listening to the teacher. We want them discussing issues and problems with their peers, and directing their learning wherever possible.

The best teaching not only imparts information, but places the burden of responsibility for understanding what that information means squarely in the laps of students. The earlier that is done in a student’s career, the better. That way, good habits are formed as early as possible.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education clearly accepts this notion and plans on capitalizing on what students know and understand about good teaching. Beginning in 2013-14, students will rate their teachers and those ratings will count as evidence in the overall assessment that is the new, state-mandated teacher evaluation system. But, first let me back up a bit.

By the end of this school year, the Gloucester Public School District will have done the following with respect to the new evaluation process:

Collaboratively agreed upon a memorandum of agreement with the Gloucester Teachers Association for the 2012-13 school year.

Provided an annual, required orientation for educators on the new system.

Conducted a multi-phased professional development plan necessary for rolling out the system (for both educators and administrators).

Identified which teachers will be evaluated beginning this year and which teachers will begin their “cycle” next year.

Implemented a software system that organizes the evaluation process (many examples of professional practice or “artifacts of evidence” practice will need to be collected and placed in some form of organizer; this can be done electronically).

Implemented the evaluation system using the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Model Contract Language (along with slight modifications agreed upon with the Gloucester Teachers Association).

Formed a Labor and Management Committee to review the “pilot” and make recommendations about the process; the recommendations from this committee will guide future negotiations on the evaluation process.

Looking ahead, there are two other items that we are expecting from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in order to round out the evaluation system. The first are guidelines on annual student growth and achievement, and what constitutes a low, moderate, and high impact of instruction on student learning. The second item refers to the above-mentioned ratings of teachers by students.

In a recent article, titled “Can Student Surveys Measure Teaching Quality?,” educator Ronald Ferguson talks about important elements that should be found in any student survey which might ultimately constitute data for teacher evaluations. What I find fascinating and the reason for this article are the areas he claims that students can and should be asked about regarding what is taking place in classrooms. These include the following:

Care (what is the level of demonstrated concern from the teacher?).

Control (how effectively does the teacher manage off-task and, or disruptive behaviors?).

Clarification (how well does a teacher promote a deep understanding of ideas, equations, etc.).

Challenge (does the teacher provide a challenging level of effort and rigor in class?).

Captivation (is the instruction stimulating, relevant, and memorable?);

Conferring (does the teacher actively and is she/he persistent in seeking students’ points of view).

Consolidation (does the teacher frequently check for student understanding as well as point out the patterns associated with concepts being taught).

Student surveys of teachers are a controversial topic, and assertions for their use have been challenged.

Regardless of any argument around the use of student surveys for evaluation purposes, however, the list of potential student observations briefly described above gets to the heart of quality teaching. These are the characteristics of quality instruction and a powerful learning environment.

For those who remember, Art Linkletter may have been right: “Kids say the darndest things.”

Richard Safier is superintendent of the Gloucester Public School District.