Palo Alto Unified School District teachers are reviewing results from an experimental district-wide course evaluation survey after students completed a questionnaire in December.
Teachers obtained scores ranging from one to six for 10 multiple choice questions based on student ratings as well as anonymous student comments. In addition, teachers can compare their results between different courses they teach.
While open-ended comments were useful, others tended to be self-contradictory, according to physics teacher Michael Stern.
“One student would be like ‘I really like when we go off on a tangent and talk about things that we’re not being tested on’ and another student would be like ‘I really get annoyed when we go off on a tangent and talk about things we’re not going to be tested on,’ so some of it was less useful,” Stern said.
Others did not find the standardized element of the survey practical.
“I think there’s so much value in getting feedback, but every teacher is in a very different place in their teaching,” Advanced Placement Psychology teacher Melinda Mattes said. “This sort of ‘one size fits all’ [survey] could be really valuable to one teacher and one course and then not at all for others. I would love to see the district work with teachers on a more individual basis to help them craft something that is useful for each individual.”
To Mattes, who regularly asks for feedback in her AP Psych course throughout the year, the survey’s questions did not offer an outlet for improvement.
“They [the survey questions] are not the questions I would ask, and they’re not the manner in which I would ask them to help me in honing my craft and improving my course,” Mattes said.
According to Palo Alto Educators Association president Terri Baldwin, teachers have always been required to conduct student surveys by their contracts and have typically created their own surveys to give to students. Baldwin says PAUSD proposed the switch to an online standardized evaluation survey.
“We [PAEA] agreed in a Memo of Understanding to try it out as a two-year pilot program and see how it works,” Baldwin said. “We want to make sure that teachers get valuable information back from the students that help them inform their instruction before we make this new program a permanent part of our contract.”
According to Baldwin, PAEA will not take student surveys out of the contract language for the coming years but rather evaluate the questions and survey method’s effectiveness.
“We will convene the committee soon to look at the survey and the effectiveness of the feedback as well as the ease or lack thereof in administering it,” Baldwin said. “We will go back to negotiations next year and discuss the committee’s findings after two to three semesters of surveys and make a decision [of keeping or discontinuing the district-wide survey] then.”