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SSW Research Brief: What can student perception surveys tell us about teaching?

SSW Research Brief: What can student perception surveys tell us about teaching?

Wallace, T.L., Kelcey, B., & Ruzek, E. (2016). What can student perception surveys tell us about teaching? Empirically testing the underlying structure of the Tripod Student Perception Survey. American Educational Research Journal, 53(6), 1834-1868. doi: 10.3102/0002831216671864


What is the study about?

Student-teacher interactions can determine the amount of effort students put in to learning. Students’ perceptions therefore, may be a promising way to evaluate teaching compared to classroom observations by other professionals. The Tripod Student Perception Survey collects data from students about their perceptions of classroom instruction.


FACT: Research has shown only moderate agreement between student ratings and teacher ratings of instruction.


The current study used data from the Tripod Student Perception Survey to answer these questions:

1.      Are there differences in the way students think about quality teaching/instruction?
2.      Are there differences in the way that students rate teaching quality compared to how professionals rate teaching quality?
3.      Do students’ responses on the Tripod Survey predict improvements in math test scores?


What did they find?

  • Existing theories of effective teaching were not supported by the data in this study.
  • Good classroom management was related to growth in students’ math scores.
  • Classroom management was measured by the students’ perceptions of: class behavior, student behaviors relative to expectations, respect toward teacher, and how much the class stays busy rather than wasting time.


Why is it important?

  • When evaluating teaching quality, classroom observations are not enough—you must get information from students.
  • Current measures of teaching quality do not collect information about all the techniques and behaviors of teachers that lead to improved student outcomes.
  • School districts are increasing their reliance on student perception surveys as part of their evaluations of teacher instructional quality.


What can School Social Workers do?

  • Help teachers find effective ways to manage classroom behavior, demonstrate clear and consistent expectations, foster respectful communication, and making the most of class-time.
  • When administrators are looking for ways to measure teacher efficacy, advocate that they seek input from students.
  • Help administrators choose student perception surveys that have been shown to be valid and reliable through research studies.


How was the study done?

The authors examined the structural validity of the factors measured by the Tripod Student Perception Survey and compared them to several other models of effective teaching. Analysis was conducted with data from the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Database (dataset of classroom teaching in the US, collected from over 2,500 4th through 9th grade teachers in 317 schools across 6 school districts in several states). Four different factor structures (chosen from the research literature on effective teaching) were tested with the Tripod Survey and a 5th model was created to best fit the data. Correlations between the Tripod model and ratings on an observational measure of teaching (Classroom Learning Assessment Scoring System-Secondary, CLASS-S) were also explored.  Finally, multi-level structural equation modeling was used to examine if scores on the survey predicted improvement in math scores.

About The Author

Michele Patak-Pietrafesa

Michele Patak-Pietrafesa, LISW-S is a PhD candidate in the College of Social Work at the Ohio State University. Her dissertation research explores teacher perceptions and how these relate to various outcomes for students of color. She teaches both in-person and online courses in research and statistics in the BSW program at OSU and conducts trainings and guest lectures on topics related to evaluating social work practice, school social work, and anti-racist practice.

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