According to a report earlier this year by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, student feedback is better at predicting classroom success than teacher experience or graduate degrees, U.S. News reports—but while student surveys are standard practice at colleges and universities, most high schools leave this resource untapped. Yet asking students how their teachers are performing is a no brainer, says Rob Ramsdell, vice president of the consulting group Cambridge Education.
“If we think about it, who spends more time in the classroom, observing the dynamics of the classroom, than students?” Ramsdell said at a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., on July 10 regarding using student feedback to improve teaching practices.
Cambridge Education is hoping to mine those observations via the Tripod Project, a student survey system developed by a Harvard University professor. Tripod gauges student perceptions at the classroom level by presenting statements such as, “My teacher knows when the class understands, and when we do not,” and “My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in this class.”
The survey has three versions tailored for students in grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-12. Student responses at the high school level include five options ranging from totally untrue to totally true. More than 3,000 K-12 teachers in six districts used the survey in 2009-10 as part of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, sponsored by the Gates Foundation. Cambridge Education administers the survey and analyzes and reports the results back to schools, and those results provide valuable insight for teacher development, said Bill Hileman, vice president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.
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