Speaking Out Against Student Evals

  • 2019-09-10
  • Inside Higher Ed

Sociologists and more than a dozen other professional groups take a stand against using student evaluations of teaching as a primary measure of teaching effectiveness.

Despite these evaluations' "ubiquity," however, "a growing body of evidence suggests that their use in personnel decisions is problematic." The statement cites more than a dozen studies finding that students' evaluations are weakly related to other measures of teaching effectiveness, used in statistically problematic ways and can be influenced by factors such as times of day and class size. It notes that both observational and experimental research has found these evaluations to be biased against women and people of color, and says that adjuncts are particularly vulnerable in a system that depends on them for teaching performance data.

More specifically, the association recommends that questions on student evaluations should be framed as "an opportunity for student feedback, rather than an opportunity for formal ratings" of teaching effectiveness.

Institutions should not use student evaluations of teaching to "compare individual faculty members to each other or to a department average," the association further recommends. Rather, as "part of a holistic assessment, they can appropriately be used to document patterns in an instructor's feedback over time."