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Study Finds Student Perception Surveys Can Tell Us a Lot About Teaching

Published on 03/12/17 in News » Articles

By Kathy Neesen

Erik RuzekA new study finding, published in the latest issue of the American Educational Research Journal, shows that adolescents’ perceptions can provide valuable and reliable information about the teaching and learning happening in a classroom. 

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Cincinnati, looked at the effectiveness of a measurement tool called the Tripod, a student survey instrument used widely in K-12 settings. The Tripod gathers data on students’ perceptions of their teacher’s instruction and the classroom learning environment.

Erik Ruzek, research assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, said the research findings are important because students’ survey reports of teachers, peers, and classrooms are based on their firsthand, repeated experiences, “Data from measures like the Tripod provide us with a unique student perspectives on the classroom as a learning and social-emotional environment. And, these measures give students a voice when it comes to the quality of their education.”

As of 2015, the Tripod measure was being used in more than 1,400 schools nationwide. It asks students to evaluate teacher and classroom characteristics such as warmth, level of challenge and organization. In order to determine the reliability of the Tripod for measuring these different facets of classroom quality, Ruzek and his fellow researchers examined how consistent the Tripod’s student survey were with other observational measures used to asses a classroom, like the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). The CLASS measures the social, organization and instructional quality of teacher-student interactions through repeated classroom observations by a trained coder.

The research team analyzed and compared Tripod survey responses and classroom observation results using the CLASS from 1,049 middle school classrooms with 25,423 students. They found that the Tripod measure was able to provide reliable information on the overall quality of a teacher’s instruction and also more specific information on the degree to which the teacher was able to create a respectful and productive learning environment. The research team also noted that teachers who had higher Tripod scores on overall classroom quality, as well as creating a respectful and productive environment, tended to show higher gains in student achievement on standardized tests.

According to Ruzek, the findings are encouraging, because they confirm that student reports from the Tripod are a valuable insight into students’ classroom experiences and academic performance. “Our findings showed that students’ perspectives of their teacher and classroom were not only aligned with other observational measures of teacher quality, but also predictive of how well they and their classmates did on standardized achievement tests,” he said.

As the use of student surveys in teacher evaluation systems grows across the United States, often informing high-stakes decisions made by policymakers and school administrators, Ruzek said that understanding how and when measures like the Tripod are best used is essential. Although the findings from this study are encouraging, Ruzek also noted that more work needs to be done to understand how effective student perception surveys are in other contexts and cultural settings.


LeBaron, T., Kelcey, B., Ruzek, E. “What Can Student Perception Surveys Tell Us About Teaching? Empirically Testing the Underlying Structure of the Tripod Student Perception Survey”. American Educational Research Journal, Vol 53, Issue 6, pp. 1834 - 1868, First published date: November-05-2016, 10.3102/0002831216671864

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