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What do students really think about their teachers?

Assessment helps us to understand how well our students are learning, but to help us understand the effectiveness of our teaching we need student feedback, as Lawrence Ingvarson explains.

When we assess our students we are able to collect information about what our students know and can do, but we are also able to infer from that how effective we have been in our teaching. To more fully understand our teaching effectiveness, however, we need to rely on the best available source of information: the feedback of our students.  In essence, as Amanda Ripley observed in a 2012 article in The Atlantic, ‘While test scores can reveal when kids are not learning, they can’t reveal why.’

Our students are the ones who know like no one else whether our explanations are clear, whether we are approachable and helpful, whether we make them interested in the subject, whether we ask them questions that make them think, whether they get a chance to participate in class discussion.

What does the research say?

Research studies such as David Wilkerson and colleagues’ ‘Validation of student, principal and self-ratings in 360­ degree feedback’ show that students are reliable sources of information about the quality of teaching, and in fact more reliable than teachers or school principals.

Ryan Balch’s research, reported in ‘The validation of a student survey on teacher practice,’ has also shown that carefully constructed student surveys can accurately predict student achievement gains. The only thing better at predicting achievement gains, Balch concludes, are previous test-score gains.

According to Balch, teachers also report that feedback from student surveys is more useful in self-evaluation than student test scores, and helps them identify strengths and weaknesses and work with colleagues to develop more effective teaching strategies.

The ability of student surveys to provide informed feedback about classroom practices is seen as major advantage over other methods of evaluating performance, such as gain scores on standardised test of student achievement.

While student surveys can be more accurate than classroom observations at predicting achievement gains according to the Measures of Effective Teaching project of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they can also provide the same kind of information at a fraction of the cost and time.  They also provide a more representative sample of teaching practices; a few observations cannot match the depth and quality of evidence that students can provide about typical practices over time. 

Researchers Laura Goe and colleagues have identified several advantages of student surveys over other methods of teacher evaluation. Student surveys:

  • are cost-efficient
  • are time-efficient
  • can be collected anonymously
  • require minimal training
  • enable the tracking of change over time.

The Student Perception of Teaching Questionnaire

To enable teachers to gain valid and useful feedback from students about the quality of their teaching, ACER has developed the Student Perception of Teaching Questionnaire (SPTQ) with reference to the Australian Professional Standards for Teaching and the Danielson Framework for Teaching

Students complete the confidential SPTQ online, usually in about 15 minutes, and tailored reports to suit the needs of individual teachers or school leaders are then provided within two weeks. 

In some cases, school leaders commission ACER to administer the SPTQ as part of a school-wide program of professional development, after consultation with teachers and with a shared understanding about how the results will be used and whether they will remain private.  ACER then provides a report based on the results to the school.

In other cases, individual teachers arrange for the SPTQ to be administered to their students confidentially, with the approval of their school leaders.  ACER then provides a confidential report based on the results directly to the teacher.

Addressing respect and rapport, the learning culture, managing classroom activities, managing student behaviour, purposeful teaching, effective teaching strategies, student engagement, and assessment and feedback, the SPTQ has been carefully constructed to ensure that students are asked about what they know and their classroom experience. It does not ask students for their opinions, or to compare teachers. Its fundamental purpose is to assist teachers and school leaders in understanding the effectiveness of their teaching practices and programs. ■

Further information:

For more information about the Student Perception of Teaching Questionnaire, visit www.acer.org/school-improvement/improvement-tools/student-perception-of-teaching-questionnaire

RD

About the author

Dr Lawrence Ingvarson is a Principal Research Fellow in ACER's Teaching and Learning research program.

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View selected works of Lawrence Ingvarson

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