Best Practices for Using Student Ratings for Personnel Decisions

Generally, students are able to report on the extent to which a teacher appears prepared for class sessions, communicates clearly, stimulates interest, and demonstrates enthusiasm and respect for students; research shows that student responses on these dimensions are valid and reliable. Generally, students are less able to judge the knowledge of the instructor or scholarly content and currency of a course.

When using student ratings for personnel decisions, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Student ratings results should not be used as the only source of data on the quality of an instructor’s teaching.
  • Questions about instructors and courses should be relevant. They should fit the instructors and courses being evaluated.
  • Multiple sets of ratings of faculty courses over time should be considered; personnel decisions should be influenced only by ratings from several courses over several terms.
  • Because global ratings of the teacher or course tend to correlate more highly with student learning than do more specific items, personnel decisions should rely more on global items (e.g., "Overall, this is an excellent course." "Overall, the instructor is an excellent teacher.").
  • Do not over emphasize small differences in ratings results. Especially for personnel decisions, three broad categories are sufficient: “excellent,” to help identify possible nominees for teaching honors; “satisfactory”; and "needs improvement."
  • Contextual data (such as departmental or school means) allow individual evaluations to be interpreted within a meaningful context. In addition, information about course characteristics (e.g., disciplinary field, class size, required/elective, lower division/upper division, etc.) should be considered when reviewing evaluation results.
  • For additional context, departments can provide opportunities for instructors to comment on their ratings, either in a teaching statement or in a separate document. In particular, such comments allow instructors to offer their own perspective on student ratings results, and they can also provide context on any special circumstances surrounding a given course (e.g., new courses or innovations in teaching, a shift from an elective to a required course, changes in departmental grading standards, student resistance to certain types of material).
  • Student rating results should be considered in personnel decisions only when at least 10 students in a given class respond and only when the majority of the students in a class have completed the surveys.
  • The use of optional items chosen by the instructor customizes  the forms and makes them more useful for teaching improvement purposes.
  • While written comments are particularly helpful in improving classroom performance, they are not recommended for use in personnel decisions.

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