Student Evaluations of Professors: Another Look

In a 2014 study titled “An Evaluation of Course Evaluations,” researcher Philip B. Stark concluded that “the common practice of relying on averages of student teaching evaluation scores as the primary measure of teaching effectiveness should be abandoned for substantive and statistical reasons.” So, what’s the problem? Now that many, perhaps most, colleges and universities use online evaluations, response rates are not nearly as good as for in-class evaluations. Lower response rates, Stark points out, can skew statistical averages, especially because online surveys are affected by student motivation: those who are most unhappy, even angry, are more likely than are happy, satisfied students to complete the survey. In short, if the response rate is low, the data are not likely to be representative of the whole class. (p. 5)

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