Professor Evaluations: Hurtful or Helpful?



As the new semester kicks off, we are confronted with new professors, and possibly one we may have already had. Within the first week, most of us have probably already developed a clear perception of our professors. Whether it is for the reason that the class is of our interest, or if the professor has superb ratings on RateMyProfessor, we are inevitably challenged with having to sit in the particular instructor’s course for the next three months--until we are able to put our thoughts and feelings of them onto evaluation forms or online rating sites.

From time to time, student evaluations of their teachers can be very effective; especially when the praise or critique comes directly from the individuals who are being educated by them. However, student evaluations can also be a very poor and biased indicator of the teacher’s performance, especially when it comes to demonstrating a professor’s ability to effectively teach a subject matter.

It is without a doubt that college students love teachers who are gentle with their grading and coursework load. Thus, it is inevitable that the way a teacher assigns work and grades would affect the outcome of the evaluation.

In the age of the Internet, one can easily search a professor’s name and get a well-defined understanding of their teaching experience and what other students who have taken their class may feel about them. Of course, the accuracy of these ratings can be debatable as we can have differing opinions of certain instructors. For instance, students often conflate good teaching with undemanding, easy going teachers with facile coursework. A professor may grade the student based on their performance and participation, but a student may take it personally and use the professor’s evaluation for mitigation. In this aspect, it can be hard for a student to be objective when it comes to rating their professor on their actual teaching capability.

Nonetheless, professors do need to be evaluated every now and then, and student evaluations can be beneficial for others seeking to take a certain course with the professor or even for the administration to oversee the performance of their faculty.

If a teacher were to ask students to anonymously submit their evaluations as a form of constructive criticism rather than an official report, the teacher could definitely use it as valuable feedback.

Another possible application of rating professors’ performance would be to evaluate them based on their students progress and performance. For instance, the quality of the students test grade and their progress from test to test during the semester can be a far more effective indicator on how well the professor can teach. If a teacher instructed a student whose grade improved significantly, the teacher most likely went out of their way to help the student and should therefore be positively evaluated.

Although this type of outcome based evaluation requires more effort and statistical analysis, it is certainly more helpful and accurate in judging a professor’s ability to motivate and push students to attaining their fullest potential. Such practice is not unheard of, as many states have adopted a similar program for their K-12 education system to qualify for the Race to the Top education grant enacted under the Obama Administration.

The Education Commission of the States requires that evaluations include evidence of student achievement on tests as a means of rating teachers. Whether the states choose to adopt this practice or not comes down to the choice of accepting a more effective method of evaluation.

If a student is not complying with their professor, it is no one’s fault but their own. However if the professor makes absolutely no effort to help their student, the professor should also be held accountable.

Teaching and learning are phenomenons that do not progress unless both ends reciprocate. With the evaluations of a professor’s capability to improve a student’s grade or progress is made available to students who are looking to enroll in prospective classes, one can effectively gage whether or not the professor and class is a fit for them.