Academic journal article College Student Journal

Student Evaluations of Faculty: Concerns Raised in the Literature, and Possible Solutions

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Student Evaluations of Faculty: Concerns Raised in the Literature, and Possible Solutions

Article excerpt

Student evaluations of instruction have long been used to evaluate the teaching performance of instructors. However, despite the widespread use of data from student evaluations for the purpose of determining faculty teaching effectiveness, a review of the literature in the area indicates that issues concerning the validity and usefulness of such evaluations remain unresolved. Given the pervasiveness of usage of such evaluations, substantial changes in the system are unlikely to be implemented across the country. After reviewing key problem areas that have been identified in student evaluations of faculty, this paper suggests some possible methods to increase the validity of teaching evaluations without major changes to the current systems of evaluation of faculty. Such changes could benefit both college students and faculty be increasing the usefulness of student evaluations of faculty.


Administrators of colleges and universities for some time have stressed the importance of a marketing orientation (Bush, Ferrell & Thomas, Jr., 1998). Because students are one of the consumer groups interested in the product of a college education, students opinions are consider a vital source of information concerning the quality of instruction at colleges and universities. Virtually all colleges use student evaluations of instructors as a measure of instructor performance (Magner, p. A 18, 1997), therefore, such student evaluations have a significant impact on tenure, promotion or merit pay decisions concerning faculty (Centra, 1979; Ehie & Karathanos, 1994).

Feedback from students may help instructors to improve their teaching performance (Marsh, 1991). Unfortunately, the use of such ratings for evaluations relating to reward systems of a college or university may be problematic.

To the extent that student consumers are responding to factors that should be unrelated to teaching quality, such evaluations may be misleading (Cashin, Downey & Sixbury, 1994; Marsh, 1994, 1995), and may have negative consequences on the overall quality of the educational experience for students.

Extensive research has been conducted on student evaluations to determine their validity. Stability and internal consistency (Cashin, Downey & Sixbury, 1994; Costin, Greenough & Menges, 1971; Marsh, 1994, 1995) as well as variability between instructors (Marsh & Bailey, 1993) have all been demonstrated.

However, numerous studies have cast doubt on the validity of such instruments. Rodin & Rodin (1972) found a negative relationship between student performance and student ratings. O'Connell & Dickinson (1993) found that amount learned by students was unrelated to the overall ratings of the instructor. Yunker and Yunker (2003) found that students from a class where the instructor was rated higher did worse than students from class where an instructor was rated lower, in a subsequent follow-up class. In another study, Koon and Murray (1995) found that final examination scores had only a .30 correlation with student ratings of instructors. Marsh (1987) noted that workload and students' grades might also affect student ratings of instructors. Students may not have the level of knowledge necessary to properly evaluate their instruction (Olshavsky & Spreng, 1995). This may lead to use of some other proxy in determination of instructor performance.

"Entertainment" level of the classroom experience has been shown to affect overall instructor ratings (Costin, Greenough, & Menges, 1971). The famous "Dr. Fox" study (Naftulin, Ware, & Donnelly, 1973) found that an enthusiastic actor was highly rated on teaching quality despite a lecture intentionally devoid of content.

Narrative comments noted on student evaluations of faculty in one study demonstrated that many students wanted classes to be more fun and entertaining (Trout, 1997). Williams and Ceci (1997) found that emphasizing communication skills produced significant improvements in ratings of an instructor by students in all areas of teaching for a class, despite the fact that the material and lecture format remained identical, as well as student performance. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.