The Authenticity of Student Evaluations
Vol. 13 No. 9
How much weight should student evaluations of their teachers carry? On the one hand, students are with their instructors nearly every day. Their engagement and education is directly impacted by how well their teachers perform, and so perhaps may deserve to be heard within the broader evaluation framework. However, new research suggests that students—even adult students!—may not have the emotional maturity or perspective to offer “authentic” reviews of their teachers.
A 2014 paper published by the University of California’s Center for Teaching and Learning in Berkley, California (“An Evaluation of Course Evaluations”), found that several intrinsic problems lay in student evaluations as they’re currently designed, including:
- low response rates;
- uncontextualized scores (e.g., a teacher may receive low marks with struggling students and high marks from naturally gifted students, indicating a need for increased training that would go unnoticed if all scores were “averaged” without accounting for these extenuating circumstances); and
- generalized—not customized—surveys for multiple disciplines and class settings, leading to irrelevant questions and confusing data sets.
Even more interesting was work done in Italy by economics professor Michele Pellizzari. He and his team evaluated students’ ability in a particular subject before they took relevant coursework. Pellizzari then tried to predict what a student’s performance would be like in advanced subject classes, based on who taught them the fundamentals. According to an NPR article covering the results, the students who performed better in later classes—as measured by the grades they earned—would evaluate their foundational instructor more poorly than their peers who performed worse, but rated their (different) original instructor highly.
Basically, as Pellizari summed up the results for NPR, "If you make your students do well in their academic career, you get worse evaluations from your students." In this context, student evaluations are little more than satisfaction reports, not true evaluations of a teacher’s performance—the impacts of which are felt in later classes.
According to these studies, then, students can offer insight into how much they enjoyed a particular class, but not (necessarily) how well a teacher actually taught them. A better evaluation of teacher performance would be peer coaching and review, as well as class observations by administrators. In both cases, evaluators would be able to transcend a student’s bias and use a broader personal experience of educational pedagogy to better evaluate teachers.
Additional ISM resources:
Research: Effective Teacher Professional Development: What the Literature Says
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 9 No. 7 Does Your Teacher Evaluation System Include Professional Development?
ISM Monthly Update for Division Heads Vol. 9 No. 5 The Teacher Evaluation Stalemate in New York
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
Research: Research Outcomes: The ISM Student Experience Study 2010-11
I&P Vol. 37 No. 5 The Student Culture Profile II
I&P Vol. 33 No. 3 Faculty Recruitment: Teacher Quality vs. Quantity
I&P Vol. 32 No. 16 Building Your Faculty’s Characteristics of Professional Excellence
I&P Vol. 37 No. 2 Comparing and Contrasting Evaluation Approaches
I&P Vol. 30 No. 5 Pizza, Compensation, and Faculty Culture: Is It Time for Merit Pay?
I&P Vol. 31 No. 13 Faculty Evaluation, Student Performance, and School Leadership: An Update
I&P Vol. 34 No. 13 New Research: The Relationship Between Faculty Development and Student Performance