Students have savvy things to say about how effective their teachers are in helping them learn.

“As a nation, we’ve wasted what students know about their own classroom experiences instead of using that knowledge to inform school reform efforts.”

A new survey done by the advocacy group Youth Truth (partly funded by the Gates foundation) of three thousand teachers and students across the country shows that good classroom management, using many different ways to explain the same material, and a focus on identifying and fixing mistakes helped students the most. 21,000 students have been surveyed in all; Youth Truth has been gathering survey results for more than two years at 86 schools, with 100 more slated for additional research in the coming year.

Teaching to the test, paradoxically, did not correlate with students’ higher test scores on standardized tests. “Teaching to the test makes your students do worse on the tests,” [director of education at the Gates Foundation] Ms. Phillips said. “It turns out all that ‘drill and kill’ isn’t helpful.”

The Gates Foundation study is different from “value-added” assessments of teachers in that it relies on several different methods of assessing teachers. The “value-added” model measures teachers purely on the basis of improvement in student test scores (subject of a controversial release of data and series of stories in the Los Angeles Times regarding LAUSD teachers, for example).

The Gates Foundation study relies on tests to measure how well teachers have mastered subjects they teach, the student surveys, and critiques of videos showing teachers at work in the classroom–a larger portfolio of teaching than student achievement as gauged by the rise or fall of test scores. Some 24,000 hours of video showing teachers at work will be collected to isolate the best techniques and taught to other teachers.

The NY Times quotes the lead researcher on the student survey study, Harvard Public Policy Professor Ron Ferguson, as saying, “Kids know effective teaching when they experience it.”

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