The Student Ratings Debate: Are They Valid? How Can We Best Use Them?

The Student Ratings Debate: Are They Valid? How Can We Best Use Them?

The Student Ratings Debate: Are They Valid? How Can We Best Use Them?

The Student Ratings Debate: Are They Valid? How Can We Best Use Them?

Synopsis

This is the 109th issue of the quarterly journal "New Directions for Institutional Research,"

Excerpt

James A. Kulik

This chapter reviews the conclusions on which most
experts agree, cites some of the main sources of support
for these conclusions, and discusses some dissenting
opinions and the research support for those opinions.

Student ratings are an old topic in higher education. Seventy-five years have passed since students at the University of Washington filled out what were arguably the first student rating forms (Guthrie, 1954). Almost as long a time has passed since researchers at Purdue University published the first research studies on student ratings (Remmers and Brandenburg, 1927). But student ratings are not yet a stale topic. Teachers still talk about them, researchers still study them, and most important, students still fill out the forms—millions of them every year—in college classes throughout the country.

Seldin's surveys on teaching evaluation (1993a) show just how widespread rating systems have become. About 29 percent of American colleges reported using student ratings to evaluate teaching in Seldin's 1973 survey, 68 percent of colleges reported using them in his 1983 survey, and 86 percent reported using them in his 1993 survey. Seldin reported that no other data source gets more attention in the evaluation of teaching—not classroom visits, not examination scores, and not self-reports.

Rating results are also being used today in more ways than ever before. Colleges originally set up rating systems to serve two purposes: to help administrators monitor teaching quality and to help teachers improve their teaching (Guthrie, 1954). Today, ratings serve many purposes. At my own institution, administrators and administrative committees use ratings in hiring new faculty, in annual reviews of current faculty, in promotion and tenure decisions, in school accreditation reviews, in selecting faculty and graduate students for teaching awards and honors, and in assigning teachers to courses. Faculty members use ratings when trying to improve their teaching effectiveness, in documenting their effectiveness internally and externally . . .

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