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Area Under the Curve

Original post made by Caring Parent, Stanford, on Jan 31, 2012

The natural work ethic for teachers drives many of them to promote an environment that rewards and promotes the development of quality teachers. But I think taxpayers and parents are often asking for teacher performance rather than teacher quality.

As evidenced by threads in Town Square, there are many different ideas and perspectives around both of these.

There is a straight forward, business-like view of teacher performance that is generally overlooked. According to this view, a teacher's performance can only be properly seen when understanding three aspects to their work. First, and the most often considered, is the work output - usually thought of as the ability of students to demonstrate their competence. Normally, tests provide a proxy for this result.

Second, the input, or raw material that the teacher starts with. This includes the abilities, talents, inclinations, work habits, previous education, home life, health, and other aspects of the relevant students that impact their ability to gain and demonstrate competence.

The third aspect is the resources leveraged by the teacher during teaching. Some of these resources are practically unlimited or are renewable; others are more scarce. A teacher that requires significant use of scarce resources is not performing as well as one who does not. For example, expert parent time for any given subject is a scarce resource for our population overall; access to specific material on the internet is essentially unlimited.

There's plenty to be said about all three of these, but this posting is about output.

Some teachers look at the performance of their top students as demonstrating the quality of their output. A student winner of a national award, if taught by the teacher, gives the teacher prestige and proves that the teacher really knows the advanced material and can teach it.

But if you graph teacher output for all students, you see a broader view of the teacher's output. Consider a student performance graph with the students on the x-axis, ordered by performance best to worst. This graph is a descending curve. The teachers with the graphs starting with the highest performance are often considered the highest quality teachers. But even ignoring the teachers' inputs and resource use, I would argue that the area under the curve represents the best measure of teacher output.

It's how the whole set of students performs that matters, not just how well the very best students perform.

Comments (5)

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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2012 at 1:25 pm

There are many ways to evaluate teachers. Standardized test scores are an obvious, but limited one. Some additional things I'd like to see considered:

Student feedback which is given directly to the Principal, current feedback forms go directly to the teacher, no one else sees them!

Parent feedback - again, to the Principal, not the teacher.

Number of students dropping the class (in high school)

Student grades in the class over a number of years.

In class evaluations by other experienced teachers.

Comparison of grades, test scores and drop level between teachers of the same subject.

Feedback from the next grades teachers about how prepared the students are (ask some of the Paly English teachers about how well kids can write after coming from Jordan!)

Most teachers are wonderful, hard working people.

Like this comment
Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Nice post, Caring Parent.

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Posted by missed point
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 31, 2012 at 7:33 pm

there is a teacher you may dislike most in high school and want to drop their class. Instead, you don't get your parents to bail you out of a difficult situation and stick it out in the class.

Ten years later, you actually have fond memories of the class and the teacher. You remember it because it was so memorable, because it was so challenging, because of how quirky the teacher was.

Point of the story is two-fold. A class & teacher you may dislike when you're 15 may end up being the best thing for you when you're 25. Also, don't get your palo alto parents to bail you out of everything just because it's hard.

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Posted by Caring Parent
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm


"A class & teacher you may dislike when you're 15 may end up being the best thing for you when you're 25. "

I agree completely, and also agree with the other parts of your post.

A teacher can be strict or lax, friendly or aloof, give good grades easily or be stingy with them. None of these characteristics can predict how much learning they cause or facilitate in their students.

I also doubt that money used by the teacher is a particularly good predictor of student learning, but I have an open mind on that one.

It's clear to me though that a key part of an evaluation of teacher performance should be the student performance that demographics predicts.

Good teacher performance should provide a better result than that predicted by demographics.

Yet I do agree that the learning or value provided by a teacher is very hard to measure.

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Posted by hb
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 23, 2012 at 9:28 pm

The teachers will soon be partially replaced by virtual learning. We can increase class sizes and fire a lot of them. If I were a teacher I would be very worried about my long term prospects. Technology will soon mean that the country will need a small fraction of the number of teachers it has now. Classrooms will be virtual soon!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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