May 21, 2014

Lessons from the Field: The Role of Student Surveys in Teacher Evaluation and Development

By Jeff Schulz | Gunjan Sud | Becky Crowe

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There is a growing belief that students can provide valuable feedback on a teacher’s performance in the classroom. Student perception surveys are increasingly seen as a low-cost and reliable tool for gathering data and feedback on the quality of teaching in individual classrooms. However, incorporating student surveys into formal, high-stakes teacher evaluation and development systems has its challenges. In this paper, Jeff Schulz, Gunjan Sud, and Becky Crowe highlight the experience of states, districts, charter management organizations, and teacher preparation programs that are “early adopters” of student perception surveys.

Through their research, the authors find that while there is great interest and potential to use student surveys to collect information on and improve teacher practices, few examples exist of field surveys being used successfully to benefit teacher and student experiences. Specific challenges are identified and potential solutions are offered.

To ensure that student feedback is meaningful and used to improve teaching and learning, survey users, survey providers, and education funders all have a role to play:


  • Avoid dictating one-size-fits-all solutions for how districts should include/use surveys in their teacher evaluation models.
  • Monitor early-adopter states and districts to understand the benefits and drawbacks of using student surveys.
  • Support pilot programs to accelerate the state of knowledge about the use of student surveys and support districts that want to incorporate surveys.
  • Encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing among districts that implement student surveys and integrate that information into state policy decisions.

Districts and CMOs

  • Engage teachers early in the process of deciding whether to use a student survey to help them better understand the value of student feedback.
  • Explore student survey options and specific product features by talking to experts in the field and early adopters and reading published reports.
  • Talk to multiple vendors and be informed about how to assess vendor offerings.
  • Make sure that survey data are used as part of the professional development process (e.g., embed data in teacher learning communities, coaching cycles, and other on-site professional development) and not just as an evaluative measure.


  • Develop more validated survey questions beyond those studied as part of the MET project.
  • Continue to improve offerings, especially around connecting survey results to professional development and improved teacher effectiveness.
  • Continue to develop functionality to link to technology platforms as a way to increase ease of use and the likelihood that outcomes will be used as part of broader teacher effectiveness initiatives.


  • Fund research of student survey use in high-stakes environments.
  • Encourage competition by funding multiple vendors as a way to lead to product improvement.
  • Create channels for stakeholders to share best practices, lessons learned, and vendor information.
  • Fund vendor/district/professional development provider collaborations to create tighter links between survey items and follow-up professional development.

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