Thursday, September 22, 2016

How Valuable Are Student Evaluations of Instructors?

Seemingly not as valuable as we've been led to believe:
A number of studies suggest that student evaluations of teaching are unreliable due to various kinds of biases against instructors. (Here’s one addressing gender.) Yet conventional wisdom remains that students learn best from highly rated instructors; tenure cases have even hinged on it.

What if the data backing up conventional wisdom were off? A new study suggests that past analyses linking student achievement to high student teaching evaluation ratings are flawed, a mere “artifact of small sample sized studies and publication bias.”

“Whereas the small sample sized studies showed large and moderate correlation, the large sample sized studies showed no or only minimal correlation between [student evaluations of teaching, or SET] ratings and learning,” reads the study, in press with Studies in Educational Evaluation. “Our up-to-date meta-analysis of all multisection studies revealed no significant correlations between [evaluation] ratings and learning.”

These findings “suggest that institutions focused on student learning and career success may want to abandon SET ratings as a measure of faculty's teaching effectiveness,” the study says.
This study dealt with professors, not high school teachers.  Want to know who does know who the good and bad high school teachers are?  Other high school teachers.  It's not rocket science.


Niels Henrik Abel said...

Wish my educational institution would take this to heart. Instead, they've doubled down and made the student evals to be completed online, even for non-online, non-hybrid classes. I'm not sure but I'd bet it's too early to tell if this method of administration is more likely to increase student participation, or more likely to decrease it. Either way, I'm not too keen about getting critiqued by a bunch of willful ignoramuses who wouldn't know good teaching if it slapped them upside the head.

On the bright side, perhaps the online administration would prevent collusion amongst the students so they wouldn't gang up with negative comments about the teacher...I hope...

Pseudotsuga said...

The studies merely *suggest* this?! *eyeroll*
Clearly we needed to spend the money to confirm what anybody who was paying attention already knows-- student evaluations (whether positive or negative) are not reliable evaluations.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that student biases can get in the way, I do think there's some merit in the student evaluations at a university level. The best teachers will be the ones rated with a medium to higher work load but still rated highly in helpfulness, clarity, and efficiency. Those are the ones where lots of work and learning is done while the professor is encouraging and engaging positively. There are lots of sub categories and various ways a professor can succeed or fail. My university doesn't care about these results unless there's an incredibly wide discrepancy between it and the rest of the department. The main purpose is for the professors to reflect on what they might want to change if they want, as well as a reference point for students when choosing a professor.

socalmike said...

I agree with you, Darren. I know who our good teachers are, and I know the ones with whom I'd never want a child of mine to take. Of course, there may be a little bias, but not much. I think the best compliment you can give a teacher (as another teacher) is "I want you to teach my kid".