Surprise: Teachers crave evaluation

A survey of teachers shows that most say student progress can used to evaluate their job performance, but they're wary of using standardized tests. As for tenure? It shouldn't be used to protect ineffective teachers, they say. 

Elaine Thompson/AP
Social studies teacher Stafanie Hardgrave (c.) works with eighth graders Angel Martin (l.) and Cyrill Tan at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle.

Read education headlines these days, and the take-away might be that it's teachers versus reformers on most key issues.

But a new report from Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­dation paints a very different picture of teachers and their views.

Having surveyed more than 10,000 teachers, the report offers a nuanced look at how they feel about their profession, testing, controversial reforms, and what needs to change.

Far from wanting fewer evaluations of their teaching, for instance, they want more.

Teachers want more formalized self-evaluations, more evaluations by principals and district leaders, and more assessments of their knowledge in the subjects they teach.

They also agree overwhelmingly that student growth during the school year should be the most important factor in measuring teacher performance. Forty-three percent say it should contribute a great deal, and an additional 42 percent say it should contribute a moderate amount.

They have less faith, however, that standardized tests are the best way of measuring that growth. Just 4 percent say student performance on standardized tests should contribute a great deal in their evaluations, while 36 percent believe it should contribute at least a moderate amount.

"A lot of people think teachers don't want [evaluations]," says Margery Mayer, president of Scholastic Education. "They do want that, but in a way that's fair and thoughtful."

Another area with an unexpected response: teacher tenure.

Most teachers say it should take longer to get (an average of 5.4 years, versus the current national average of 3.1 years). About 9 out of 10 teachers say tenure should reflect teacher effectiveness and should not protect ineffective teachers.

Similarly, while most teachers say seniority should play a role when it comes to layoff decisions, they don't think it should be the only factor.

But when it comes to some other areas that reformers have emphasized, there's less agreement from teachers.

Just 6 percent, for example, say that a longer school day would have a very strong impact on student achievement. (Another 16 percent say it would have a "strong" impact, but it's still at the bottom of the list of reforms they'd like to see.)

And teachers tended to be dismissive of how well standardized tests measure student learning. Just a quarter of those surveyed say they're an accurate reflection of student achievement.

"It's striking how much there is in here that feels very in alignment with the reform movement, and other things that fly in the face of the conventional wisdom from reformers," says Ms. Mayer.

Another notable point in the survey: Even though teachers care about salary, just 16 percent say that tying pay to performance helps retain good teachers. They ranked it 15th out of 15 items, far behind factors like supportive leadership, family involvement, time for collaboration with other teachers, and more support for high-needs students.

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