Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The case against student evaluations

It is time again for student evaluations and the biannual ritual where students are given the authority to judge how well they were treated in their classes. While I agree that it is useful to have some indicators about the quality of teaching, I do not think students are the best people to ask about this.

As Walter Bossert argues, the facts that students are obviously no experts in the taught material, that they perform the evaluation anonymously without having to justify their marks and they have no guidelines on what the marks are worth makes this a highly dubious effort. Imagine if teachers were evaluating students this way!

From my own experience and from pouring through others' evaluations (a sad exercise), students reward those who make it easy on them. Just look how students discuss their teachers on Professor Performance or Rate My Professors. A committed teacher who wants her students to really learn and pushes them to work hard is doomed.

Then, how should teachers be evaluated? By their peers, and by students who have graduated. These are the people that can best evaluate how the teacher masters the material and how it has an impact.


VIlfredo said...

Consider also that those who "forget" or "misplace" student evaluation are those who would need most to improve there teaching. With such a selection bias, evaluations are even worse thatn what you state.

Parson Frog said...

We are usually evaluated by one section each semester. A couple of years ago, I was teaching two sections of microeconomics, and the difference in performance between the two classes was more striking than usual. Both had strong and weak students, as usual, but overall, one section was much stronger than the other. Since the weaker section had been selected for the evaluation process, I asked to have evaluations done by both groups.

Even though I taught the same material in the same way, with one section coming immediately after the other, the stronger group made me look like super-professor, while the weak group made me look like I should be fired. This was true across almost the entire range of questions, even one regarding how available I was outside of class. Of course, I was equally available to both, but I received a much higher average rating on that from the stronger class (a great example of the halo effect).

Kansan said...

To echo the previous comments: undergraduate students do not appreciate the value they get from good teachers. My personal observation is that graduate students, typically more mature and experienced, evaluate classes much higher than undergraduates.

tomsaso said...

Students in U.S make evaluations at the end of the course ?
That's how i got it.

Well, here in Macedonia, we are given the evaluation forms just before the first exam (1/3 or 1/2 of the total). So we can't judge our results (if we fail we give bad marks, if we succeed we give good marks), but professor performance.
In our case student evaluation is necessary since experts on the subject are limited (3-4 professors in the country)

However, even as a student, i agree on evaluation by peers which can be applied in the U.S.
I think that peers need to make sure that the professor taught fully the material that is needed for the subject.
Average student results will be the best indicator of the ability of the professor to make the material interesting,comprehensive and to motivate students.

Spectator said...

The following paper provides hard evidence on the questionability of teacher evaluations: http://ftp.iza.org/dp5620.pdf