NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Capturing the Dimensions of Effective Teaching

August 27, 2012

In the largest study of instructional practice ever undertaken, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Measures of Effective Teaching project is searching for tools to save the world from perfunctory teacher evaluations. Overall, the researchers are attempting to aid attempts to measure teachers' effectiveness by reforming the approach altogether, says Thomas Kane, professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

One of the primary recommendations from the initial phases of study is to use evaluative tests that adequately capture teachers' potential quality for future classes.

  • They emphasize that one of the primary reasons teachers are evaluated for student gains is the assumption that such gains will be repeated with future classes.
  • To this end, the researchers point out that many states currently administer tests that do not provide opportunities for students to demonstrate all that they have learned in the subject.
  • Instead, they find, the structure and style of testing is typically dictated by cost.
  • Comprehensive tests that are not centered on multiple choice questions would better flesh out teachers' overall impact on students' learning and better predict future results.

They also point out that sophisticated tools for classroom observation, even if limited in scope, can be informative in evaluating teachers.

  • Over the years, education researchers have proposed a number of instruments for assessing classroom instruction.
  • Many of these tools have focused on measuring only one or a small number of the elements of teaching, but as long as each factor is related to student achievement, classroom observation can be an essential means for providing feedback to teachers.
  • The research team tempered this recommendation, however, by pointing out that if observation is used as the sole tool for evaluation that it may stifle individual innovation.

The final recommendation of the research team is that student evaluations can be essential in capturing information that other measures can miss. In their own distributions of student surveys, the researchers found that students are very capable of differentiating between teachers' respective strengths and weaknesses, and that survey outcomes, as a result, can be very useful in improving teaching practices.

Source: Thomas J. Kane, "Capturing the Dimensions of Effective Teaching," Education Next, Fall 2012.


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