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Some CPS students want a voice in grading their teachers

Timothy AndersGage Park High School pumps up students with chant  end news conference  students from Voices Youth Chicago

Timothy Anderson, Gage Park High School, pumps up students with a chant at the end of the news conference of students from Voices of Youth on Chicago Education (VOYCE). Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 29, 2012 8:21AM

A group of Chicago Public School students Tuesday demanded that student opinions about the effectiveness of their teachers be slowly folded into a new teacher evaluation process due to start this fall.

Since students are with their teachers every day, they are the best source of information about them, students from Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, or VOYCE, and the Mikva Challenge insisted. And some research suggests they have a point.

However, students wouldn’t say exactly how much their opinion should count on a new Chicago teacher evaluation system currently under negotiation.

Sullivan High student Laurise Johnson would say only that student surveys should eventually count enough in the overall assessment of a teacher to be “taken seriously,’’ but not enough to “jeopardize a teacher’s career.’’

Giving weight to what students think about their teachers has been common on the university level for years, noted Harvard University economist Ronald Ferguson. At Harvard, Ferguson said, the results of student surveys about professors are not only considered at tenure time, but are posted online to help kids decide which classes to take.

New federal demands for “multiple measures’’ of teacher effectiveness, combined with promising research by Ferguson and the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, have spurred a growing number of school districts to consider including student surveys in the evaluations of teachers of younger kids, kindergarten to 12th grade.

The MET Project found that fourth- through eighth-grade answers to questions about how well teachers controlled a classroom and managed time; explained and clarified topics; and projected genuine care about students were the best predictors of student learning gains.

Chicago students Tuesday recommended that CPS pilot any student survey about teachers for two years before letting it count. They asked officials to create a student taskforce to help guide the survey’s development and implementation.

But can students who draw F’s from teachers really be fair? Ferguson recommends that at least two years of survey results, and at least two surveys per year, be used in any evaluation to “balance out’’ any unnecessarily deflated or inflated ratings.

Gage Park teacher Xian Barrett, who won recognition from the White House for his teaching, said he takes student surveys eight times a year, asking his students to give him and themselves a letter grade and list ways that both can improve.

“Students can be harsh and critical, but in my experience they can be fair,’’ Barrett said. “Sometimes it’s the harshest ones that help the most.’’

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