Academic journal article Education Next

Measuring Up: Assessing Instructor Effectiveness in Higher Education

Academic journal article Education Next

Measuring Up: Assessing Instructor Effectiveness in Higher Education

Article excerpt

THERE IS A SUBSTANTIAL BODY OF RESEARCH showing that teacher quality is an important determinant of student achievement in elementary and secondary schools, inspiring some states and districts to enact policies aimed at identifying and rewarding high-quality teachers. Yet relatively little is known about the impact of instructor effectiveness on student performance in higher education, where such insights could be particularly useful. Even more than leaders at K-12 schools, college administrators often have substantial discretion to determine which instructors receive teaching assignments.

This lack of research is largely the result of data and methodological challenges. Whereas K-12 schools administer standardized tests to most students in core academic subjects, there are few such common assessments at colleges--even among students taking the same course at the same campus. In addition, college students are able to choose their classes and thus, their instructors. Because college students have a great deal of flexibility compared to students in K-12, simply comparing their success rates across instructors is likely to be misleading.

In this study, we overcome these challenges by examining data on more than 2,000 algebra instructors at the University of Phoenix (UPX), a for-profit institution that is the largest university in the United States. UPX follows a unique instructional model based on common, standardized curricula and assessments, in both online and face-to-face classes. These assessments provide an objective outcome by which to measure instructor effectiveness, and we use them to examine two questions: How much does student performance vary across instructors? And is instructors' effectiveness correlated with their teaching experience and salary?

We find substantial variation in student performance across instructors, both in the instructor's class and in a subsequent class. Differences are substantial in both online and in-person courses, though they are larger for in-person classes. Notably, instructor effects on students' future course performance are not significantly correlated with student end-of-course evaluations, the primary metric through which instructor effectiveness is currently judged. Our findings suggest that colleges could improve student outcomes by paying more attention to who is teaching their classes.

Examining a Higher-Ed Hybrid

We study instructor effectiveness at UPX in a required undergraduate mathematics course for BA-seeking students, College Mathematics I (Math I, known internally at UPX as MTH/208). As with most courses at UPX, Math I classes are five weeks long and taken one at a time. UPX students take Math I after completing about eight other classes, so enrollment signifies some level of commitment to persisting in their program. The course covers basic algebra, such as linear equations, graphing, and working with exponents, and is the prerequisite for a follow-on course, Math II, which covers quadratic equations and factoring polynomial expressions. Many students struggle in these core math courses, which are regarded by UPX staff as important obstacles to obtaining a degree.

Students can take Math I online or in person; UPX currently has campuses in 30 U.S. states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Math I course sections are split about evenly between the two modes. In the face-to-face sections, students attend four hours of standard in-class lectures per week, typically on a single evening. In addition, they are required to work with their peers roughly four hours per week on what are known as "learning team" modules, as well as spend 16 additional hours outside of class reading course materials, working on assignments, and studying for exams.

Online courses are asynchronous, so students can access course materials and complete their assignments at any time. Instructors provide guidance and feedback through online discussion forums, in which students are required to post substantive comments and questions six to eight times each week. …

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.