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Gates Report on Student Surveys Oversells Strengths, Ignores Weaknesses

Contact: 
William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058, wmathis@sover.net
Eric M. Camburn, (608) 263-3697, camburn@wisc.edu

URL for this press release: http://tinyurl.com/ayexemg

 

BOULDER, CO (November 15, 2012) – A recent report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Measures of Effective Teaching” (MET) Project presents advice on administering and using information from student surveys to evaluate teachers and provide feedback to teachers. A new review, however, finds that the report doesn’t provide sufficient justification for many of its conclusions. 

Professor Eric M. Camburn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison reviewed Asking Students about Teaching for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Camburn’s own research focus is on instructional improvement, particularly in urban schools, and he has studied the use of survey methods to measure school improvement outcomes.

Asking Students about Teaching seeks to establish that student surveys provide valid evidence usable to evaluate teachers. The report then offers guidance about optimal practices for using and acting on such surveys.

Camburn agrees that student surveys are potentially useful and that the report “contains many practical pieces of advice that are sensible and worth putting into practice.”

He cautions, however, that the report’s claims of a strong relationship between student survey results and teacher effectiveness are not supported by evidence in the report itself.

Camburn further warns that a “broader limitation of the report is that many of the findings and conclusions are presented too uncritically and without sufficient justification.” He continues: “Developers of the MET project embrace the idea that multiple measures of teaching effectiveness are needed to represent such a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon. However, in discussing the potential uses of student surveys, this report’s stance is lopsided, placing too much weight on the strengths of student surveys and not enough weight on their weaknesses.”

In short, student surveys can potentially provide useful information, but the report’s policy recommendations far outpace the available evidence.

 

Find Eric Camburn’s review on the NEPC website at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-asking-students

Find Asking Students about Teaching, published by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on the web at:
http://www.metproject.org/downloads/Asking_Students_Practitioner_Brief.pdf

The Think Twice think tank review project (http://thinktankreview.org) of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The Think Twice think tank review project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.  For more information on the NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.

This review is also found on the GLC website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org