Evaluating the Effect of Teachers On Students

Evaluating teachers is difficult from any point of view. Shortages in teacher placement continue to prevent the field from professionalizing to a set of standards that then could unify how we assess good teaching across teacher preparation and K-12 schools. The use of common curriculum, the latest version being the Common Core, might be a good place to set these standards. Many states in America are now using student test scores on this common curriculum to evaluate teachers. But there remains many hurdles to a common evaluation of teachers in the US:

Evaluating teachers has always been controversial, in part because inferences about their behaviors based on student performance are drawn in situations where they do not have full control of who they teach, students’ prior knowledge, and amounts of time needed in order to adapt teaching to individual differences (E. L. Baker, 2014). Over the years, more process-oriented approaches to teacher evaluation have used judgments of the quality of classroom artifacts, observation of teachers’ classroom behavior using high inference judgments, and even the neatness of the room and blinds. Needless to say, a more scientific and defensible approach is desirable. Moreover, poor teacher evaluation systems may hurt not only teachers but, inadvertently, students as well (Popham, 2013). But teacher evaluation is a necessity. In addition to their competency in assisting students to learn the content and skills expected in schools, teachers serve many other roles. They can be attentive to individual students’ needs, recognize and respond to their cultural differences, and provide support and model desirable behaviors. Many of these behaviors can be combined in the category of noncognitive factors or summarized by the term social psychological perspectives and behaviors (Baker et. al. (March, 2015). Assessment of teachers from a social psychological perspective. Review of Research in Education, abstract).

So the cognitive and non-cognitive factors in good teaching leads us to construct evaluation of their performance as a simple quantitative and qualitative divide, that is to say, do student test scores go up and do they feel supported in their learning? If so, you have a good teacher on your hands!

But my research in arts integration leads me to interrupt this way of cleanly dividing the evidence and to say when things go well in the classroom, it is due to a combination of factors, both cognitive and non-cognitive and that the evidence I have collected can more aptly be called a learning process made up of factors for success.

In other words, the evidence we collect on measurable factors is not enough to accurately evaluate teacher effectiveness. If you just collect student test scores and student surveys of how supported they feel, it does not fully paint the picture of teacher effectiveness. The parts I attend to in my research are more formative assessment in nature, e.g., measuring where students start, where they finish, and did they learn more than they might normally learn? Was the learning visible along the way? Can I measure that reliably? Can I see the teacher’s effectiveness clearly in the student process of learning?

That we do have so many teachers who can regularly attain above average impact and attain above the typical growth within their classrooms is to be acknowledged, esteemed, and should be the essence of teaching as a profession.

We need to help schools to collect dependable evidence of the current levels and the desired levels of achievement for each student, and, critically to monitor the profession from the current to desired levels…this may require some major rethinking of teachers’ work (Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. New York: Routledge, p. 191).

…Teachers in Japan typically have 15 to 25 hours a week…to plan cooperatively and engage in analysis of student learning, lesson study, action research and observation of one another’s classrooms that help them continually improve their practice (Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education; How America’s commitment to equity will determine our future, New York: Teachers College Press, quoted in Hattie, above, p. 191).

Students are like learning machines and so just measuring that does not capture teacher effectiveness. Classrooms are like hit and miss environments for learning…helping some, hindering others. But new forms of assessment that measure students who go past their own natural learning trend might be a more accurate way to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Developing a new system to evaluate teacher practice requires we really measure teachers and their effect on student learning very carefully.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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