Evaluating Teachers

We will soon distribute our “pulse” survey to staff and faculty. It is our attempt to capture a sense of how people are feeling about the College and to ask for ideas on what we can do better.

We are also in the midst of classroom observations for faculty moving through the tenure process as well as post-tenure review faculty.

Both efforts are trying to understand how we are doing and what we can do better.

So while we are in the midst of self-evaluation, I found the recent Atlantic Magazine issue on education especially relevant. The article that stood out for me is entitled “Why Kids Should Grade Teachers.” Focused on K-12 teachers, the article discusses how some schools are using student evaluations (some as young as Kindergarten) of teachers to understand teacher performance. The evaluations seem to correlate with student performance. From the abstract:

A decade ago, an economist at Harvard, Ronald Ferguson, wondered what would happen if teachers were evaluated by the people who see them every day—their students. The idea—as simple as it sounds, and as familiar as it is on college campuses—was revolutionary. And the results seemed to be, too: remarkable consistency from grade to grade, and across racial divides. Even among kindergarten students. A growing number of school systems are administering the surveys—and might be able to overcome teacher resistance in order to link results to salaries and promotions.

We use student evaluations of teachers as part of the tenure process, but these evaluations are not used after that milestone. This is in contrast with my recent experience in grad school, where every faculty member’s evaluations for every class were available to anyone interested at the university.

The Atlantic article provides support for the idea that student evaluations of teachers have value and are predictive of teacher success. The surveys are long – the one in the example they use has 127 questions – and seem to measure a number of instructional and non-cognitive aspects of the classroom experience. In the absence of a formal school-sponsored evaluation system, students have taken it upon themselves to rate both their professors and the college. Such systems seem to cater to outliers – those students with extremely negative or positive experiences. It may be time for us to take back control of our evaluations. If we can do so while providing faculty and students with support systems and feedback loops, it may spur all of us to better performance.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with non-profit, higher education, and private-sector consulting experience.

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