Friday, June 1, 2007

Uses and Abuses of Student Ratings

I recently revisited an old posting from Tomorrow's Professor mailing list about "Uses and Abuses of Student Ratings". It is an excerpt from the book "Evaluating Faculty Performance, A Practical Guide to Assessing Teaching, Research, and Service" and lists a set of common problems in the use of student ratings for evaluating the teaching performance of a faculty member. I enjoyed (re-)reading the whole list, but I particularly liked these three items:
  • Abuse 1: Overreliance on Student Ratings in the Evaluation of Teaching ...
  • Abuse 2: Making Too Much of Too Little ... Is there really a difference between student ratings averages of 4.0 and 4.1? ....To avoid the error of cutting a log with a razor, student ratings results should be categorized into three to five groups ... Utilizing more than three to five groups will almost certainly exceed the measurement sophistication of the instrument being used.
  • Abuse 5: Using the Instrument (or the Data Collected) Inappropriately ... While we have 20 items on our ratings form ... only #7 really matters for making personnel decisions.
I am confident that if we read an academic paper that analyzes the results of a questionnaire in the same way that we currently analyze student ratings, the paper would have been considered naive (no statistical significance of findings, no control variables, use of a single instrument for evaluation, and so on). Unfortunately, it is does not seem likely that we will ever apply the same rigor when analyzing the student ratings forms.