Scholars say teaching evaluations mistake "consumer satisfaction" for "product quality"

September 22, 2014

A new article by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley argues that teaching evaluations offer little value as measures of teaching quality. Philip B Stark and Richard Freishstat say that traditional, Likert scale-based evaluations offer “an air of objectivity simply because they are numerical,” but too strongly reflect snap judgments and pre-existing biases. Averaging results, they say, is not appropriate in teaching evaluations. Rather, they suggest reporting score distributions and response rates. They also say that evaluations should not ask questions that are too broad or for which students lack the information to respond, such as whether the course was valuable. Stark and Freishstat say it would be more valuable to ask about students’ experiences and enjoyment. The authors propose an alternate system that focuses less on averaged evaluation scores and more on faculty members’ teaching portfolios, syllabi, student comments, and peer evaluation. “If we want to understand what’s going on in the classroom, we actually have to look at it. You can’t subcontract the evaluation of teaching to students,” said Stark. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Full Article