By Kate Lavin, Staff Writer
For many students, the grade they receive in a class is the most important part of school. Although the format of grading has changed throughout the years, from point systems to letter grades to checks and minuses, the ultimate purpose of a grade has remained the same: Grading is a way to quantify a student’s achievement and check their understanding of the material, as determined by their teacher. But should teachers be held to the same standard?
The concept that students should be able to grade their teachers has grown support over the last few years. Schools across the nation, including Payton, have begun giving their students surveys in which they evaluate their classroom environment and how their teacher affects their learning. Surveys, such as the PERTS survey, ask detailed questions: everything from how comfortable a student feels asking their teacher for help to how respected they feel in class. In the survey results of January, the category of teaching caring, or how well respected a student feels by their teacher, was most highly rated, with 79% of students giving positive feedback. The lowest result was in affirming cultural identity with 52% reporting negative feedback.
Payton teacher and Chair of the Science Department, Ms. Leigha Ingham, sees the PERTS survey as important to teachers. “Teachers are using the PERTS survey to generate conversations with their students that help them understand how students define categories such as belonging, student voice, meaningful work, etc,” she said. “Understanding how students define these categories is important in understanding how teachers can make meaningful changes to their classrooms for their students.”
In this article, we will dive into the arguments for and against a student-based teacher grading system.
Those who find these proposed evaluations obsolete see problems in both the survey and its application. In the survey itself, many find that students might not take it seriously or they might intentionally grade a teacher poorly because of personal biases. “No one really cares about [PERTS],” says Nate Sullivan ‘23. This attitude would likely be present in other teacher-grading surveys. Additionally, one student could negatively affect an otherwise successful teacher’s score. The questionnaire is also not suitable for younger students, and critics believe that it would be difficult to implement this strategy later in a student’s educational career. This group also fears that teachers will begin giving their students different scores or become more lenient with punishments in order to receive better grades on the survey.
In application, surveys should not replace standardized tests in measuring a student’s achievement. Standardized tests show academic understanding, whereas this survey would only discuss classroom environment and relationships. Additionally, tests such as the SAT and ACT are used for high school seniors to apply to college and standardized exams help prepare students for them. Furthermore, a teacher’s survey score should not determine if they are kept at the school. It is impossible to say if this questionnaire would be effective or if teachers would use the data to improve their classes.
Champions of these student-response surveys argue that an adult supervisor coming into the classroom once or twice a year is not enough. Students are with their teachers multiple times a week, and are therefore more familiar with the environment the teacher creates, as well as the efficacy of their teaching methods. By giving grades or specific comments, teachers can make classes more enjoyable for students. When classes are more enjoyable, it is easier for students to engage and therefore they will see improvements in their grades.
“I think a systematically implemented reflection tool can be beneficial in order to build a common language around growth in teaching and learning,” said Ms. Martinez, Payton Choir Director and Art Department Chair, about the perts survey. “Different teachers reflect upon the data differently, based on their teaching styles. Data can also be tricky to interpret, with so many educational variables at play. Teachers need time for slow rumination of feedback, while knowing that the ultimate goal is that students feel we are responsive to class and individual needs.”
Many teachers do not consider test grades a fair assessment of student learning. By hearing direct student feedback, there can be a greater understanding of what may be holding students back either at home or in the classroom. By creating an open line of communication between students and teachers, students can find greater support both emotionally and academically. Critics of these student-response surveys argue that biases and grudges held against teachers can skew the results. However, one or two negative student evaluations is not enough to sway the entire average. Perhaps the most compelling argument for these surveys is that these surveys improve grades. A study done by researcher Thomas Kane showed that teachers that were higher rated on these surveys had students who showed improvement in their test scores that year.
There are arguments both for and against implementing a system where students are able to grade teachers. Which side are you on?