High standards and student enjoyment clash

Teachers can teach their subject well but teach their students to hate the subject in the process.  There’s now evidence to support that adage (“What Do We Know About Teacher Quality?” National Education Policy Center, Jul. 26).

A recent study in the peer-reviewed Education Finance and Policy found that “teachers who are skilled at improving students’ math achievement may do so in ways that make students less happy or less engaged in class.”  In other words, it’s a pyrrhic victory.

This conclusion has far-reaching implications for how teachers are rated. One of the most important goals of instruction is to make students lifelong learners. That means trying to inculcate positive attitudes about a particular subject.  If all we focus on is the ability of teachers to boost test scores, however, we will never know if they have been effective in non-cognitive areas.

One of the ways to get feedback is to ask students to complete a Likert inventory.  Students anonymously respond to a series of statements to which they register their agreement or disagreement.  Typically, their responses are on a five-choice agreement scale.  For young children, three response options (e.g. agree, don’t know or disagree) can be used.  Unfortunately, we give short shrift to students’ affective status.

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