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Britain researcher thinks valued added measures are "jolly good"

Improvements in students’ test scores are the single best measure to determine a teacher’s long-term success, a study released last week by the UK-based Sutton Trust found.

The study, “Testing Teachers: What works best for teacher evaluation and appraisal” by the London School of Economics’ Richard Murphy, examined three methods of teacher evaluation – student test scores, classroom observations and student survey – and found, based on a comprehensive review of existing studies in the U.S. and elsewhere, that test scores were the most effective measure in evaluating a teacher.

Admitting there are shortcomings to each method, the study details how gains in test scores are the best way to evaluate teachers because of its objectivity. In fact, the study found that it is by far the most reliable of the three measures in predicting a teacher’s long-term success. Using test gains are nearly twice as effective as student surveys and nearly three times more effective as classroom observations.

Ultimately the paper concludes that using a combination of all three methods – along the lines of what we at StudentsFirstNY advocate - would yield the most reliable and fair measure.

In running valued added through the paces, Murphy considers whether it is an unbiased measure of teacher quality, a consistent measure over time and an accurate reflection of teacher quality. He does identify shortcomings in each area, but in the end concludes that in reality these potential biases are very small and thus value added is the most effective measure in determining a teacher’s long-term success.

When considering teacher observations, Murphy found those observing are generally not prepared – they don’t know what to look for, cannot provide valuable feedback and often include subject opinions. Additional shortcomings include vague standards, restrictive work standards, lack of time, a school culture that discourages critical feedback and a lack of incentives for school leaders to accurately evaluate. However, the study does note that classroom observations provide information that cannot be obtained from valued added – such as actually seeing the teacher in action – and when done correctly, provides personal feedback that can be used to improve a teacher’s instructional method.

Student surveys are appealing because it’s the students who spend the most time with the teachers, but there’s been a great deal of debate on whether students can tell the difference between a teacher they like and a good teacher. Murphy points to the Cambridge Education’s Tripod Project survey questions, which focus on the activities of their teachers, rather than how they feel about their teachers. Some of the survey questions include ones, such as “The teacher in the class encourages me to do my best” and “This class keeps my attention- I don’t get bored” as good questions to gauge how a student believes his teacher is performing.

Murphy points out that the danger in using student surveys is that some students will realize the surveys will reflect on the teachers and could intentionally provide damaging answers, so the student surveys should not hold much weight.

It’s been well documented that the most important factor in a child’s education is the quality of his or her teacher. And a teacher cannot get better if he or she is not effectively evaluated. An effective evaluation “can improve the quality of teaching, provided it is accompanied by good feedback, and it can lead to better results for pupils and improved learning,” according to the Sutton Trust study.

It’s interesting that while we heatedly debate how best to evaluate teachers here in New York, the Brits appear to have it all figured out.

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