So, I realize that student evaluations of their professors are, in principle, great. Still, I didn’t fill out any, for a number of reasons. Most of these were ones that can’t be avoided by those handing out the evaluations – for example, laziness, exams & papers due, and so on – but one reason stuck out, as it was a stupid, easily fixable problem.
This evaluation consisted entirely of rating our professor’s performance in one aspect or another (e.g. “How would you rate your professor’s preparedness for class?”) except for one space at the end where you can write any additional comments. Not necessarily bad, except that these were the 5 ratings we had to choose from: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor.
What you’ll notice is that 4 out of the 5 options are good ones. In other words these questions are designed to encourage students to lie about our professors’ performance, presumably in order to make the professors feel good. This is one of my pet peeves in education – I hate this “everyone is wonderful at everything” mentality that sometimes crops up in evaluation. Sure, only give criticism that is constructive, and sure, try to point out what was done well in addition to what was done badly; but if you’re going to flat-out lie (say something was good when it was mediocre, for example) then you might as well not evaluate at all?
What’s more, because of this lopsidedness, the questions introduce a huge amount of ambiguity – if I answer honestly, and circle “fair” when the professor did a fair job at something, will this be interpreted as actually meaning he did a poor job? It’s the second worst option available, after all. If I answer honestly while most other people answer under the assumption that “fair” really means “poor,” will I be punishing my professors solely for having me in their class? (these evaluations are, according to an email from my psych professor, “the major component in the evaluation of teaching for decisions regarding promotion, tenure, salary increases, and teaching awards” – yikes!)
If I answer honestly my answers will predominantly be in the bottom 3– Good, Fair, and Poor should cover like 70-90% of your answers unless the professor was just outstanding. This isn’t a huge problem, but it’s just so easily fixable (change the options to “Very Good, Good, Moderate, Poor, and Very Poor” and the problem is solved) that it really frustrates me to find it in a university, which is supposed to be a place where people will excercise things like “judgement” and “critical thinking.” I don’t know how common this kind of lopsided evaluation is in universities, but wherever a lopsided evaluation is present it will make results unreliable and make thoughtful students not want to respond.