Wednesday, September 18, 2019
The American Sociological Association and 17 other professional organizations speak out against the use of student evaluations
Related to our post last week about a recent Harvard study that questions the reliability of student self-reporting when it comes to assessing teacher effectiveness, this new report from Inside Higher Ed notes that several professional organizations including the American Sociological Association are urging colleges and universities to ignore student evaluations in connection with personnel decisions because they are "weakly related" to teacher effectiveness. Here's the full story:
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.
Questioning what student evaluations of teaching actually measure, various institutions have already said they won't use them in high-stakes personnel decisions or as the primary measure of teaching effectiveness.
Now the American Sociological Association and 17 other professional organizations, including the American Historical Association, are urging all colleges and universities to do the same.
"Because these instruments are cheap, easy to implement, and provide a simple way to gather information, they are the most common method used to evaluate faculty teaching for hiring, tenure, promotion, contract renewal and merit raises," reads a new statement from the sociological association, endorsed by other scholarly groups.
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.
Given these "limitations," the association "encourages institutions to use evidence-based best practices for collecting and using student feedback about teaching."
Feedback, Not Ratings
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. It nods to Augsburg University and the University of North Carolina at Asheville, which have both revised their evaluation instruments and renamed them (as the university course survey and the student feedback on instruction form, respectively), to emphasize the difference between feedback and ratings.
Moreover, the association says -- echoing many researchers and faculty advocates -- these evaluations should "not be used as the only evidence of teaching effectiveness." They should instead be used, when used at all, as part of a "holistic assessment that includes peer observations, reviews of teaching materials, and instructor self-reflections."
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Continue reading here.