Student Teaching Evaluations: Inaccurate, Demeaning, Misused

By Gray, Mary; Bergmann, Barbara R. | Academe, September/October 2003 | Go to article overview

Student Teaching Evaluations: Inaccurate, Demeaning, Misused


Gray, Mary, Bergmann, Barbara R., Academe


Administrators love student teaching evaluations. Faculty need to understand the dangers of relying on these flawed instruments.

Fifty years ago, students at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, were publishing guides rating teachers and courses. Irreverent and funny, they featured pungent comments: "Trying to understand Professor X's lectures is like slogging uphill through molasses," or "Dr. Y communicated very closely with the blackboard, but I couldn't tell you what he looks like, as he never faced the class." Unfortunately, what originated as a light-hearted dope sheet for the use of students has, at the hands of university and college administrators, turned into an instrument of unwarranted and unjust termination for large numbers of junior faculty and a source of humiliation for many of their senior colleagues.

In the 1970s, schools started requiring faculty to get students to fill out and turn in teaching evaluation forms to the administration. Administrators soon discovered they had a weapon to use against 50 percent of the faculty: they could proclaim that the half of the faculty with below-average scores in each and every department were bad teachers. They have been at it ever since. When administrators say, as they often do, "We won't tenure Professor X or give Professor Y a salary raise because he or she has teaching evaluations that are below average," they are saying, in effect, that "below average" means bad.

We know of one administration that heroically enlarged the proportion of no-good faculty members to 90 percent by declaring that any junior faculty member who failed to achieve scores in the top tenth percentile could not be promoted. But most administrations are content to bad-mouth a mere 50 percent. (If the "average" administrators use is the median, then exactly half of the faculty will be labeled bad. If they use the mean, the proportion labeled bad will probably be slightly above or below half.)

These administrators treat relative position as if it were an absolute measure of merit. They do not allow for the possibility that some departments will have mostly good teachers, in which case some or even all of those with below-average evaluations will be good teachers. They also do not envision departments in which most of the teachers are poor, in which case some or all of those with above-average evaluations may be poor teachers. It is simply incorrect to assume that each department is half and half, or that a whole university is half and half. A faculty member who gets ratings that are well below average is unlikely to be a shining star of teaching, but he or she may be quite good, valuable to the department and the students, and worthy of tenure and a decent salary.

Administrators who would like to achieve a faculty in which everyone is above average should move to Lake Woebegone, the only place where such a thing is possible. In everyplace else, if all those who were below average were fired, the average would simply rise, and about half the previously "good" teachers would then be below the new average, miraculously reborn as "bad" teachers.

One might argue that administrations should give up using relative order, and instead fix on some particular student evaluation score as the borderline between adequate and inadequate teaching. That would make sense if the ratings actually measured teaching effectiveness, but there is evidence that they do not.

Stephen J. Ceci, a professor at Cornell University, devised an experiment to see what might affect student evaluations. He taught a developmental psychology course twice, the first time using his customary style. The second time, he covered the same material and used the same textbook, but made a big effort to be more exuberant, adding hand gestures and varying the pitch of his voice. He characterized the results as "astounding"-his ratings for the second class soared. The students even gave higher ratings to the textbook. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Student Teaching Evaluations: Inaccurate, Demeaning, Misused
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

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

    Oops!

    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.