PITTSBURGH—A professor in the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education has been chosen to lead a team of researchers that is one of only 10 teams nationally to be granted one-year exclusive access to an unparalleled set of teacher-evaluation data that was collected during a three-year research project sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Tanner LeBaron Wallace, assistant professor of applied developmental psychology at Pitt, was recently awarded a Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Early Career Research Grant, awarded by the National Academy of Education and the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. Wallace and her Youth Development Lab research team of Pitt graduate and undergraduate students will use the grant—which includes an award of $25,000 funded by the William T. Grant Foundation and the Spencer Foundation—to undertake a research project that is novel in its collaboration between adolescents and adults.
The grant provides early-career educational researchers with a year's "head start" access to the MET Longitudinal Database, a massive and rich source of data for those seeking to measure teaching effectiveness and to design fairer and more reliable methods of measuring instructor performance.
The database stems from the Gates Foundation-sponsored three-year research partnership project, which involved 2,500 fourth-through-ninth-grade teachers, working in 317 schools located in seven large school districts, and dozens of independent research teams. This project, which cost an estimated $50 million, was the largest single effort to date dedicated to evaluating teaching effectiveness. Data collected during two school years beginning in fall 2009 included student outcomes, student-completed surveys, video-recorded lessons, assessments of teachers' pedagogical and content knowledge, and teacher surveys. The seven school districts from which data were collected were the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) Schools, the Dallas Independent Schools, the Denver Public Schools, the Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Schools, the Memphis City Schools, New York City's system of public schools, and the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The Pittsburgh Public Schools district was included in the project as a pilot district, and data from that preliminary phase of the project are not included in the MET Database to be used by Wallace and the other grant awardees.
Wallace was awarded the grant for her proposal "Employing Urban Adolescent Interpretations of Instructional Practice to Distinguish Teacher Proficiency From Ceiling Effect in the Classroom Organizational Domain." The Pitt project will involve recruiting students from local public schools to view some of the video footage taken during the MET research phase.
The students will be shown classroom situations where the interpretations of adolescents and adult evaluators differed, with student survey responses indicating that a teacher had poor control over the classroom, but adult evaluators considering the teacher to have adequate control. By discussing the videos with the students in small groups, Wallace and her team hope to identify the factors that caused adolescents to view each situation as they did.
Wallace believes that her project's inclusion of adolescents' responses to video recordings of teachers' lessons is unprecedented.
"The hope is that from the results of this study we'll be able to refine our existing view of classroom management in ways that are more sensitive to what matters to adolescents and their willingness to engage in classroom learning activities," said Wallace. A common, and valid, critique of much work evaluating teacher effectiveness, she said, is that these studies are "adult-centric," and they fail to prioritize students' voices in the process.
"We want to integrate the perceptions of adolescents but really link these perceptions to instructional practice," she added. "I think it's a promising new direction in evaluating teachers."
The research project fits in with Wallace's broader research. She studies high schools as developmental spaces, analyzing the ways that adolescents and teachers build connections through classroom interactions as they grow and develop together.
A side benefit of the project that Wallace has noted is the building of community among the 10 teams of researchers that have received the MET Early Career Research Grant. Several "virtual" meetings of the research teams will be held throughout the year, with some in-person meetings scheduled as well. "The goal of these grants is to build a cohort of young scholars who are advancing our ability to accurately measure effective teaching, and I am thrilled to be part of the group," Wallace said.
The other teams that have received the grant are based at Boston University, Brigham Young University, Michigan State University, New York University, the Rockville Institute for the Advancement of Social Science, the University of Connecticut, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Wayne State University.
Wallace and her team members underwent multiple rounds of security clearance before gaining access to the data via a virtual data enclave system that prevents them from downloading the data to computers. The team's access began on March 1, 2013, and will expire on March 1, 2014.
The MET Longitudinal Database research collection is stored at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research in the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. Visit http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/METLDB to learn more about the MET Longitudinal Database.
Editors: An image of Tanner LeBaron Wallace is available at http://www.news.pitt.edu/gatesteacherevaluation
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