Teacher performance survey needs modifications


Senior Jazzmine Matthews fills out the EOS survey. After taking it, she said there were “really superficial questions and so were the answers because of that.” Photo by Ross Parks

Katie Whaley

I hover the mouse over one of the answer choices, frustrated. The question was simple, “This teacher makes you think deeply,” yet, I wasn’t satisfied with any of the five given choices. My teacher was great at making the class contemplate profound ideas; however, he struggled to connect those thoughts to the actual lesson. I knew I was going to choose “Very True,” since, technically, he was great at compelling us students to think deeply. Although, I wished I could explain my predicament, as no question on the sheet pertaining to the problem I had.
The questionnaire I was taking was the Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) Student Survey, an inquiry asking students about the effectiveness of their teachers’ teaching abilities. Columbia Public Schools (CPS) administered the survey to those in grades 4-12, asking students to answer honestly on 12 multiple choice questions. Though it’s important for teachers to receive feedback about their work, this NEE evaluation was not substantial nor thorough enough to consider a proper or accurate resource to report on teachers’ capabilities in the classroom.
To start, only nine questions of the 12 were “real.” Three of the questions were “calibration” queries made to gage the honesty and concentration of the student taking the survey to ensure the response could be considered “valid,” which was completely unrelated to teacher performance. The actual nine questions that discussed the teacher’s efficiency are statements about teachers and lessons were similar to the one aforementioned about deep thinking. Some questions asked were: “This teacher expects us to think a lot and concentrate in this class,” and “This teacher’s lessons make us think the whole class time.”
These questions, though pointed in the right direction, fail to address the core of student needs. Though there are questions about the effectiveness of teachers and if their teaching styles coincide with NEE standards, there is a lack of queries concerning if the teacher approaches the material of the class in a clear and appropriate way and if the teacher effectively prepares students to learn and succeed. All of the questions felt like mandated checkboxes the district wanted to tick off rather than the district reaching out to students to see if they have concerns about their teachers or difficulties in class, which is what the survey should have aimed for.
In addition to poor questions, the survey’s answer choices were too vague and were worded in an ineffective way. There were five answer choices for each question, being “Not True,” “Sort of True, “True,” “Very True,” and “No Opinion.” When it came to answering questions about a teacher’s performance, it was difficult to chose one of these options because they were not specific enough. If the district wanted to know how well a teacher engaged students and provided stimulating lessons every day, then the questionnaire should have additionally asked how often teachers executed those things. A teacher could be engaging only twice a week, and the district, if they wanted honest feedback, should have wanted to know more specifics to improve teachers’ abilities.
Although gathering information on these skills is important, the questions asked do not cover all areas of their teacher’s capabilities in the classroom that students may want to discuss. If a student happened to have an issue with a teacher that wasn’t mentioned in one of the nine questions, there was no way for him or her to express that opinion. For example, if a student missed a lot of class time because of sport competitions and his or her teacher always forgot to update materials online even after many face-to-face reminders from the studentthere was no way for that student to express his or her difficulties. The questionnaire is not broad enough to cover everything a student could struggle with.
To fix that issue, the inquiry should include a comment section for students to write in specific problems although one may wonder why this is necessary as a student could always talk to his or her teacher if they have a dilemma. If the issue is something the student is uncomfortable speaking about or the student doesn’t feel close enough with the teacher to tell him or her, having an anonymous comment section would be beneficial, as the student would have a safe environment to discuss the problem. This could turn into a venting forum where a student could say choice things toward a teacher, however, that in itself shows feedback to the teacher about what he or she might be struggling with.
Additionally, giving students the opportunity to comment on their teachers allows for better feedback overall. How the survey is set up now is not relatable to students because it only asks if teachers meet CPS requirements of teaching skills. It does not offer an opportunity for constructive criticism, which would be more helpful than a blatant “Not True.” None of the questions ask what students want or need from their teachers or how their teachers can improve beyond the skills the district requires. This makes the NEE a difficult poll to seriously consider and account for the results, as it doesn’t give students the chance to express their opinions, address any specific problems outside of what was asked or discuss strengths and weaknesses of the teacher and their lessons. To get the best and most reliable feedback, there should be a writing portion where students can freely explain how they feel about their teacher’s teaching.
There needs to be more done than just adding questions, response choices and a comment section, though. There was also an inaccurate representation of all students because teachers do not have to survey all of their students. Instead, teachers only need a small percentage of their students to take their questionnaire in order for it to be valid. That means for teachers with 100 students, perhaps only 20 percent of those students need to report on that teacher, even though there are 80 other people with the same teacher. This causes two sets of problems. The first issue with this 20 person system is that the survey does not represent every student’s opinions or struggles, as not every student will end up taking the NEE survey for all their teachers. On top of that, teachers can pick which class or group of their students take their survey in order to receive good results, which skews the data from the truth even more. If CPS wants to evaluate a teacher’s ability to engage and teach every student, then they should require all students of every teacher takes the examination.
If it’s important for CPS or RBHS to have honest and specific feedback on the performance of teachers in the district, then they should expand the NEE survey to allow for more opinions and better represent every student.