This February, teachers received the Tripod Project survey results from two of their classes from the 2009-2010 school year, giving them anonymous student opinions on how students regarded them as educators and how they rated their teaching styles.The Tripod Project is an educational venture affiliated with Cambridge Education, which aims to better public education by providing schools with student data. In the survey, students were asked to agree or disagree with statements like “My teacher makes learning enjoyable,” and “My teacher knows when the class understands, and when we do not.”
The goal of the survey was for teachers to receive honest feedback about their teaching styles and to further use that information to examine their curricula and educating methods. Many teachers were pleased with what they saw on paper. Math teacher Mike Rollo said, “It was nice to see a snapshot of students’ opinions.” Hunter Hammond, who teaches AP and general eleventh grade history, agreed. “It was interesting to look at the results, and to be able to utilize that information. For instance, I changed how much freedom I gave my students to choose their own activities because of the results,” she said.
The Tripod Project is based on three major points: content, pedagogy and relationships. They hope to inform school administrations on what they need to improve upon, be it related to the curriculum or teaching approaches. The surveys also covered more than what simply goes on in the classroom. Peter Balas, Executive Associate Principal of Curriculum and Instruction, said that the administration looked at the results of the survey to get students’ opinions of the atmosphere at T.C., to gather student attitudes toward their teachers and how engaged students are in their classes. The hundred-plus question survey was boiled down to categories which have been coined the “Seven Cs”: Care, Control, Clarify, Challenge, Captivate, Confer and Consolidate. The “Seven Cs” measure how caring a teacher is, how clear and understandable the teacher makes the material, how well the teacher challenges a student in the classroom and how interesting the teacher’s teaching style is. They also quantify how large a role student participation plays in the classroom and how teachers summarize material. In addition, they gauge how well-behaved students are in the classroom, and how effectively a teacher manages his/her students. T.C.’s responses to the Tripod Project survey provide affirmation for the project’s assertions of correlates between the “Seven Cs” and student learning. T.C. students’ replies were compared to results of the nation, district and peer schools. Peer schools are chosen by the Tripod Project depending on parallels within demographics, characteristics and test scores.
In many categories, however, T.C. scored better in many of the categories than peer schools did. Though these schools are anonymous, and it is unknown whether they also bear the “Persistently Lowest Achieving” (PLA) label and stigma, they are schools with similar characteristics to T.C., such as demographics and location. In the “Captivates” section, the first of the “Seven Cs,” 8.31 percent of students replied with the desired response, compared to the 50.46 percent that schools in the “National” category scored. “Captivates” measures how well a teacher holds student attention; the Tripod Project gauged this by asking students to answer “yes” or “no” to statements such as “My teacher makes learning enjoyable,” and “My teacher makes lessons interesting.” In the “Challenges,” “Clarifies,” “Confers,” “Consolidates,” and “Controls” groupings, T.C.’s positive responses were consistently higher than both the responses of peer schools and schools polled nationally. The single category in which desired responses from T.C. students were below peer schools was “Cares,” where T.C.’s average was 52.35 percent and peer schools’ responses were 52.85 percent, a mere .5 percent higher than T.C.’s.
Compared to peer schools’ responses, and even nationally polled schools’ responses, T.C. regularly performed better on the Tripod Project survey. There are variables in this census which must be accounted for. Not all schools in the nation were truly under the “National” grouping. In reality, the majority of the schools which have participated in the Tripod Project are likely in a situation similar to that of T.C.; they are seeking to increase standardized scores. Even though T.C. scores better than the schools it is being compared to, all of T.C.’s responses averaged together are in the fifty-eighth percentile; indeed, the highest response of “The Seven Cs” was a 65.7 percent. According to the Tripod Project, the “Seven Cs” categories have a direct connection to test scores—though some are more important than others. For example, an online presentation made by Ronald Ferguson, the architect of the Tripod Project, shows that Teacher Control—one of the “Seven Cs”—is the strongest correlate between classroom interaction and test scores. The better teacher-student relationships, the more effective class time is.
However, in the online presentation, it is explicitly said that teaching effectiveness relies on more than simply an ideal relationship between students and teachers. All of the “Seven Cs” should ideally receive positive responses from students during surveys—this would indicate that students are fully engaged in the classroom, learning as much as they can from their teacher. This is where the next step of the Tripod Project comes into play. The “Seven Cs” data shown by the survey is organized into five major Student Engagement Targets: Trust, Cooperation, Ambitiousness, Diligence and Satisfaction and Efficacy. Depending on how students respond to the questions which correlate to these groups, teachers and school administrations can tailor student achievement outcomes, edit curricula and educate teachers on how to be more effective in the class time given. T.C.’s glass is more than half-full. The major changes taking place at the school this year suggest that the statistics provided by the Tripod Project will improve. It is now up to the entire T.C. community—teachers, administrators, and students—to take the quantitative information given to them and to turn those statistics into increased teacher productivity, augmented student interest, and, most significantly, improved test scores.