Tripod Project, Student Survey System, Aims To Improve Academic Achievement By Utilizing Feedback On Teachers

A student survey system known as the Tripod Project is helping districts harness student feedback on teachers in an effort to improve academic achievement, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Developed by a Harvard professor, Tripod presents students with statements such as, "My teacher knows when the class understands, and when we do not," and "My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in this class."

The survey has three versions tailored for students in grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-12. Surveys administered to high schoolers feature five response options ranging from totally untrue to totally true.

According to U.S. News, more than 3,000 K-12 teachers in six districts utilized the survey in 2009-10 as part of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, which is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They have also been administered in China and Canada.

Cambridge Education, a consulting group, distributes the survey and analyzes the results, which are reported back to schools.

A January report by the Gates Foundation found that student feedback is better at predicting classroom success than teacher experience or graduate degrees.

Although student surveys are a fixture in higher education, most high schools do not solicit student feedback.

Bill Hileman, vice president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers -- a local teachers union -- said that Tripod results provide valuable insight for teacher development.

"I don't think there is a single teacher … who doesn't leap at the information that is in the reports that come back from these surveys," he said at a panel. "If doctors don't listen to what patients say, shame on them. If teachers don't listen to what students say, shame on us."

Still, Hileman maintains that his school district will not factor the results into teacher evaluations just yet. According to U.S. News & World Report, survey administrators are reluctant to have student survey results counted in high-stakes evaluations.

Currently, a number of states and districts nationwide connect student performance on standardized tests to teacher evaluations, with many education reformers -- the Obama administration among them -- lauding the practice.