In Teacher Evaluations, Students Seek Their Say

Download Audio

In the next month, many students will be getting their report cards. But what if students graded teachers at the end of the year?

"The students are in the classroom every single day, five times a week," says Carlos Rojas, a junior at Boston Latin School. "That makes us more qualified than anyone to evaluate a teacher — more so than a random administrator who comes in three, four times a year for 10 minutes."

Rojas thinks student input is strikingly absent from teacher evaluations. And what he thinks matters because he's a member of the Boston Student Advisory Council, which is lobbying to make student feedback part of the teacher evaluation process. It's an idea the state Board of Education may vote on next month.

“The students are in the classroom every single day, five times a week. That makes us more qualified than anyone to evaluate a teacher."

Carlos Rojas, Boston Latin junior

We met with some of the student advisory council members and they told us that, at many schools, administrators have a limited view of what's actually going on in the classroom.

"I feel like whenever the headmaster visits for five minutes, it's not always what is truly going on in the classroom," says Steve Marcelin, a senior at the Social Justice Academy in Hyde Park. "Because we usually know when the headmaster is coming, and we're supposed to behave very good and follow whatever the teacher says."

Rachel Wingert, a junior at Boston Latin Academy, remembers one class where she wished she could have had a formal say in her teacher's performance.

"This teacher would just joke around, be on his laptop, say, 'Everyone, look! Get in the funny picture!' We would just be sitting there like, 'We need to learn.' And then at the end of the day he'd be like, 'Oh — test tomorrow. Read chapters four, five and six.' Like, no, you cannot do that. You cannot joke around all day and then be serious the last five minutes of the day."

Last year, the student advisory council succeeded in getting the Boston School Committee to approve a so-called constructive feedback form. High school students can use it to evaluate their teachers. They're filled out anonymously, and they were submitted for the first time this winter. But, as Wingert points out, they were seen only by teachers.

"Some of us noticed they were just in the trash can the day after," she says. "And it really just hurts our feelings because we want our voices heard, especially to our teachers that we're going to be in the classroom with."

Now, these students want state guidelines to require administrators to factor student feedback into teacher evaluations. They say their opinions can help hold bad teachers more accountable. They've run into resistance, though, from teachers who question whether students are mature enough to offer objective feedback. It's a fair point, Rojas says.

"There are some students who will hold grudges," he says. "There are some students who will judge a teacher unfairly because of a bad grade or because of personal differences. With that being said, I think the majority will overcome those."

But the students say it's important to remember that under the plan being considered by the education board student feedback would be just one part of any new evaluation standards. Teachers would also be graded based on MCAS scores, self-assessments and observations by administrators.

Melinda Wang is a junior at Boston Latin School and says she's already seen her feedback make a difference.

"If the students are genuinely evaluating the teachers, and not just basing the teachers on how easy they are or how much they like the teachers, then the teachers will actually seriously look at the feedback and improve," Wang says. "One of my teachers who a lot of students consider a bad teacher actually told me that he personally looked at the feedback and made some improvements himself."

And she says that's exactly the point of including students in the teacher evaluation process: not just a better classroom experience for students, but for teachers, as well.

This program aired on May 26, 2011.

Headshot of Sacha Pfeiffer

Sacha Pfeiffer Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



More from WBUR

Listen Live