Using student evaluations for teacher development in nine urban secondary schools : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Educational Administration, Massey University
Student evaluations are becoming more common in education, particularly in the tertiary sector. They have been used by students and by the authorities to make judgments about teachers and courses. Their use for helping teachers to improve their teaching is a recent phenomenon which has barely touched secondary schooling, let alone primary schools. Teacher evaluation data collected for summative purposes have had little effect on teaching performance as there is usually little or no feedback designed to help the teacher to improve. Teachers need to know not only what to change but also how to change their behaviours in a desired direction. This research set out to develop a questionnaire and methodology that could be used by secondary teachers to evaluate their teaching using the students as the source of information, and then use that information to help the teacher to improve their teaching. The methodology draws heavily on the work of Wilson (1986), and Marsh and Roche (1993, 1994) who constructed a process that supplemented feedback with a collegial consultation to help the teacher interpret the data in a meaningful way and then act on it. This methodology has been shown to be the best practice in this field, even though the results of carefully researched studies are modest. A questionnaire appropriate to the New Zealand secondary school environment was constructed and administered in nine urban secondary schools to 344 students. The subject teachers they evaluated were from a wide cross-section of curriculum areas. Most were experienced teachers. At the same time, the teachers completed a self evaluation using the same questionnaire. The teachers received the results of the evaluation with notes on how to interpret the tables and graphs. This was followed by a consultation with the researcher, using a methodology developed from appraisal interviewing techniques. An action plan was devised during this consultation. The teacher then put this into action, and the students were re-surveyed after approximately thirteen weeks. The results of the two surveys were compared to see whether this process was beneficial in improving teaching, as perceived by the students. Overall, the results showed a rather modest improvement across the board. There was a noticeable difference between two groups of teachers dependent on the difference between their own self-evaluation and the average student response. Teachers whose self-evaluation was similar to the student evaluation, or whose self-evaluation was worse than the student evaluations changed little between the two administrations of the questionnaire. On the other hand, if the self-evaluation was better than the average student evaluation, then there were significant improvements in the student evaluations on the second administration. This finding is in keeping with the theory of cognitive dissonance, first espoused by Festinger (1957). When the teacher has a positive self-evaluation but the students rate that teacher poorly, then the teacher is motivated to change their teaching behaviours so that the next student evaluation is favourable. As part of a teacher development programme, students and teachers similarly felt that this form of evaluation is valuable and has a place in appraisal schemes designed to help teachers improve their teaching. There is still considerable reluctance on the part of teachers for this type of evaluation tool to be used for the purposes of promotion, tenure and reward. In light of the requirements for schools to implement performance appraisal schemes, and the need for appraisals to be based on "objective" data, student evaluations can provide the desired information.