Essay: Do Student Evaluations Work


Evaluation by students for their teachers can work in an effective manner if the relevant and helpful information helps professors improve their work.  At larger institutions, teachers often focus only on scores, which can serve as a rough numeric “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” This is a less effective model than providing observations of teaching styles and course objectives. When salaries are tied to performance ratings, there is a lot at stake. Generally, professors care about their teaching and reputations. However, evaluations expand and enlarge contacts that help both teacher and learner reflect upon their experiences. Smaller colleges can focus more on student comments for bringing them into regular faculty reviews, both before and after tenure.

Reviewing evaluations provide relevant information, but reflection helps the professor more.  Are the comments reasonable and acceptable? Would the professor like to change something about the evaluation design, class discussion or comment? When a faculty member is asked by both her colleagues and students to contemplate regularly, the teacher begins to teach in a better manner.   When students record evaluations, they also engage in the educationally sound practice of reflection. Evaluations extend the interaction that helps both teacher and learner contemplate their experiences. Learning is a relationship. Student comments should be considered so as to influence teaching at places where professors come to know that effective teaching is valued more than being popular.

The system works better and it is more effective if the maximum number of the students participate; Evaluations work better if the teacher reviews them at the end of each semester as part of her or his own self-evaluation of what was learned in the class. The most critical factor is that evaluations lead to good questions raised during regular faculty reviews. Students are not aware of the final grades in any course when they write in the student evaluation form and therefore are not prejudiced towards the teacher. This means that studies of a possible grading-leniency bias on ratings can appropriately use expected grades. Not surprisingly, students’ expected grades tend to show identical compatibility with other variables as do actual final grades

Some studies that inquired a grading-leniency partiality on ratings used a design in which students were given false course grades. These studies did find some indications of a grading compassion effect; they had irregularities that rendered their results doubtful. The deception used by the researchers was not only ethically unconvincing but it also dishonored students’ reasonable grade expectations. Because actual and expected grades are typically linked giving students grades not interrelated to their performance, and different from those of students in the class performing at the same level, was both unreasonable and insulting to students.


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