by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Fabio Rojas devotes a Martin Center column to the merits and demerits of college students grading their instructors.
At the end of every semester, at nearly every college in the country, millions and millions of students fill out student evaluations of teachers. These forms ask very sensible questions. Did the teacher effectively communicate the material? Were they available for students?
Department chairs and deans take these evaluations very seriously. At teaching-intensive institutions, these evaluations inform decisions about retention and promotion. A professor at a liberal arts college may not be tenured if they have lukewarm evaluations. Part-time faculty may be dismissed as well. Even research faculty must contend with student evaluations of their teaching. The bar is lower, but it is there. Do badly enough and the professor may have a tough case for promotion.
However, new evidence suggests that the information gathered through student evaluations is not as trustworthy as once believed. Despite this new information, college officials continue to use questionable data to make their decisions. …
… By 2017, the evidence was building and a team of educational researchers summarized the state of the field. More recent research showed no consistent pattern and many studies showed that student evaluations were riddled with biases. In terms of evaluating the value of student evaluations of teachers, the issue appears to be settled. Student evaluations are not a good way to measure learning, Uttl et al. argued in 2017. If one believes that evidence should be used to guide policy, the verdict is clear: abolish student evaluations.