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Researchers seek better ways to measure teacher effectiveness

By Lindsey Smith, College of Education intern

Brian French

PULLMAN, Wash. – Classrooms across the country have long been inundated with a variety of tests to measure the effectiveness of teachers. Washington State University professor Brian French may soon be able to tell you which ones will actually work.

French is a co-researcher with a team from Purdue University seeking to measure teaching effectiveness across core academic content areas for kindergarten. Along with Purdue researchers Helen Patrick (principal researcher) and Panayota Mantzicopoulos, French has been awarded $1.6 million by the federal Institute of Education Sciences and its National Center for Education Research.

“This is truly meaningful teacher effectiveness research,” French said. “I am excited and honored by the confidence IES and my colleagues have placed in our team to engage in it.”

A need for change

While states have various measures for gauging teaching effectiveness, there are concerns about the accuracy of these assessments. Some of the issues have to do with content area, grade level and time.

Brian 2
Brian French with grad students in the WSU Learning & Performance Research Center.

“This work is critical to the decisions being made about individual teachers and the schools in which they teach,” French said. “The stakes are high in teacher evaluation systems.

“This type of measurement research is desperately needed in order to inform which teacher observation protocols are used in practice,” he said. “Our technical work will inform such decisions.”

Evaluation techniques are desperately in need of an update in order to be most effective, he said.

“For example, protocols suggest teachers be observed two or three times a year,” French said. “Some of our preliminary work suggest as many as eight or nine times may be needed.”

Instruction videotaped, assessed

The study will involve roughly 100 kindergarten teachers, 145 classrooms and 1,160 kindergarteners across diverse locations in Indiana.

Researchers will collect video data of classroom lessons. The lessons will be rated using five widely used teaching effectiveness measures. Data will be collected for three years, although the grant is to last through June 2018.

“In general, people seem comfortable with evaluating teachers by observing their instruction,” Mantzicopoulos said. “After all, there is a long tradition of principals observing teachers. Yet there are many critical questions about the use of observational measures to assess individual teachers’ performance that must be answered.”

A collaborative effort

The Purdue professors agree that French brings a great deal of skill and knowledge to the group. For this project specifically, he will be introducing several cutting-edge methodologies and analyses to better address critical, yet presently unaddressed, observational measures of instruction.

“Quite simply, he is the best,” said Patrick. “Professor French is nationally recognized for his expertise in psychometrics. We have a history of productive collaboration with him on research projects that involve complex methodological approaches to questions related to teaching, learning and motivation.”



Brian French, WSU College of Education, 509-335-8584,



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