Since the passage of PA 12-116, there has been a lot of discussion about the new educator evaluation guidelines, which allow up to 15% of an educator’s evaluation to be based on peer, parent, or student surveys. This week, we checked in with David Carel to find out a little bit more about the components of an effective survey program. David is the Co-Founder of Panorama Education, a New Haven-based survey and data analytics company for K-12 schools.

Over the last several years, research has continually reaffirmed the simple notion that teachers matter. Studies estimate that a student who has a good rather than average teacher could narrow the achievement gap over the course of four or five years. Yet currently, we don’t do enough to support our teachers. Teachers are increasingly being told how their students are performing rather than whyand how they can help. As we improve our teacher evaluation systems, we need to make sure that we offer teachers the constructive feedback they can use to improve their practice.

Why Use Feedback Surveys?

Student, parent and teacher surveys offer a powerful solution to many of these issues. Student feedback helps illustrate why students are performing the way they are and offers constructive solutions for teachers to improve. These results can then be used to inform and customize teacher professional development rather than the one-size-fits-all systems that many teachers currently experience. The Gates Foundation Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project found that student surveys are more accurate than principal observations alone, that including student feedback improves the validity and predictive power of teacher evaluations, and that students across different subgroups perceive teachers consistently. Additionally, parent surveys can offer nuanced guidance on school climate improvement efforts while simultaneously increasing parent engagement, a vital ingredient to school success. Finally, surveys can empower teachers to help make their workplace the best it can be and to help schools attract and retain great teachers.

Tips for an Effective Survey Program

There are several important steps a district must take to run a successful survey program:

  • Generate stakeholder buy-in. Survey programs are most effective when the entire school community is engaged and invested. Including student councils, teacher groups, parent associations and others in the survey design and implementation process can greatly enhance response rates, reports and the impact of the program
  • Ensure your survey instrument fits your needs. Researchers and companies around the country have developed well-tested surveys, but don’t forget to make sure they’re measuring what you intend to measure. Work with your vendor to customize the instrument to your school or district’s education frameworks or school climate goals.
  • Create easy-to-use reports. Too often, districts run great surveys and collect invaluable information, but the benefits get lost in overwhelming spreadsheets and endless tables. Reports must be visually appealing and accessible so that educators know how to act on the data.
  • Maximize your response rates. Make sure to offer multiple means of survey administration, including online, paper, over the phone, and mobile phone applications. Without these options, many of the hardest to reach students and parents will be neglected, and results will be skewed.
  • Eliminate spurious data. Several statistical techniques can be employed to ensure the reliability of survey programs. Analysts can use response pattern recognition and intra-class comparisons to detect whether a given student took the survey seriously. Properly constructed student survey systems are not a popularity contest, but rather a highly accurate and informative measure of teacher effectiveness.
  • Include rich background questions. When combined with additional student and parent background data, student surveys provide innovative insight into subgroup performance. Instead of guessing why certain subgroups perform differently than others, survey results can tell schools how students are experiencing class differently based on gender, race, socioeconomic background and other factors.

Conclusion

Though forms of student surveys have been used in schools for over a century, recent research and technological advances have propelled them to the forefront of the teacher evaluation debate. They offer a low-cost, high-impact opportunity for schools to harness the untapped resource of their most important stakeholders.

The ideas expressed in this blog post reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER). For information about CCER’s stance on these issues, see our report outlining 65+ recommendations for how Connecticut can close its achievement gap while raising academic outcomes for all students.