Should input from kindergarteners play a role in teacher evaluations? According to the Hechinger Report, a K-12 pilot program in Georgia will ask students in every grade to fill out evaluations that will be used to decide whether a teacher keeps her job.
The best educators already give their students informal surveys several times a year. Teachers often ask if students feel they can ask for help in class or if they feel like they’re part of a classroom community, then use the results to adjust their teaching practice and classroom environment. But high-stakes student surveys are on the rise; in Memphis, surveys represent 5 percent of teacher evaluations, and in Chicago, they'll soon be 10 percent.
Critics of the use of student surveys worry that teacher evaluation will be based on a popularity contest—or that students who have been disciplined by a teacher for talking out of turn or being late to class will use them to get revenge. Ryan Balch, a Vanderbilt University doctoral student who has developed and administered student surveys in small pilot programs throughout Georgia, is especially concerned about including students who can’t read and may not be developmentally mature enough to answer subjective questions.
"To be honest, I don’t think it's feasible in most situations with students in kindergarten through second grade,” Balch says. In kindergarten classes, an adult will read the survey to kids, asking questions like "My teacher knows a lot about what he or she teaches" and "My teacher gives me help when I need it" and instructing them to circle a smiley face, a neutral face, or a frowning face. How a 5-year-old is supposed to definitively know whether a teacher knows a lot about what she teaches is anybody's guess.
While student input should be an integral part of every classroom, handing an adult responsibility to 5-year-olds isn't wise. But if the pilot is successful kindergarteners could be doing just that in Georgia as early as this fall.