Archived: Report Cards for Teachers? New Law Gives CA Students a Voice


With a new school year starting and the general election rapidly approaching, education in California has become a frontrunner among the state’s most pressing issues.

Especially heated has been the debate over how best to evaluate teachers—evaluations by students versus evaluations based on students’ standardized test scores.

Last week, though, with little media fanfare, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that establishes a new, voluntary system that gives high school students a say assessing their educators—a kind of report card for teachers.

The California Teachers Association, which opposed the legislation, argued that students—who can now join faculty members on a school’s evaluation committee—are not capable of assessing the legal obligation that exists between teachers and their employers.

But denying students the means to communicate effectively with their teachers is antithetical to the goals of education. Most important, the bill turns to the students, who often know best when it comes to teacher performance.

Sponsored by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, Senate Bill 1422 establishes a process by which high school districts can create confidential student surveys and provide feedback to their teachers.

The bill authorizes high school students to create a committee of students and faculty within each school that would develop annual surveys for assessing teacher performance.

Teachers can opt out of being evaluated; those who decide to participate are the only ones to see the survey results. Because the system is voluntary, the bill won’t impact the budget. The evaluations don’t become part of any official record that could affect teacher reputation or salary, and teachers are not obligated to share the responses with anyone.

Rather than create a potentially punitive system, the legislation aims to establish an honest system that enhances dialogue between students and teachers.

“Empowering our students with a voice in their education underscores the need for every classroom to have a quality teacher. They should most certainly be heard,” said Romero, as quoted by the Sacramento Bee.

As a college student, I wish more people knew about the new law. I have dealt daily—throughout high school and now at college—with a pronounced feeling of being unheard.

Sure, I filled in the bubbles on course evaluations at the end of each year in high school, but where do those evaluations go? Who looks at them and actually considers students’ opinions?

I never saw any results. My voice as a student, already reduced to a darkened circle on a computerized Scantron sheet, had no discernable effect on anyone I knew.

SB 1422 gives students a much-needed voice. It empowers them. It improves communication between students and teachers. Most important, it encourages students to play an active role in their education and provides a positive outlet for that engagement.

It is our education, after all. So don’t we know best?

This commentary by Elena Kadvany was first posted Aug. 27 by New America Media:

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