Re: Do Student Evaluations Help Improve Education?

Ashley Thorne

George, thanks for sharing the Pope Center piece on student evaluations. I thought this paragraph was especially poignant:

Today’s student-survey approach may tell us how students viewed the course, but the data tell us nothing about actual learning. It is not that questionnaire designers disdain knowledge; they just cannot measure it, and thus they exclude a key element of teaching. Ironically, universities can now hire or retain teachers who impart nothing of value but have superb ratings.

Incidentally, NAS published an article by Peter Cohee on student evaluations last week. Cohee concluded:

A decade spent writing evaluations of public school teachers has brought me to this disillusion: evaluations as they are don't make teachers better, don't get rid of bad teachers, aren't needed by good teachers, and don't improve schools or student learning. They tend to induce cynicism and to engender ill will between the teacher and the evaluator. They are an almost complete waste of the enormous time, energy, and money spent on them.

He argued that several factors render evaluations useless:

  1. Pre-written forms are created by those who don't teach and allow for mediocre teaching ("I’ve also seen altogether mediocre teaching that meets every formal requirement.")
  2. No meaningful consequences or rewards follow evaluation
  3. Evaluation is not tied to what and how well students have learned

Cohee offers some concrete suggestions for making evaluation meaningful and effective.

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