At Denny’s, diners are asked to fill out comment cards. How was your meal? Were you satisfied with the quality of service? Were the restrooms clean?
In universities around the world, semesters end with students filling out similar surveys about their experience in the class and the quality of the teacher.
Student ratings are high-stakes. They come up when faculty are being considered for tenure or promotions. In fact, they’re often the only method a university uses to monitor the quality of teaching.
Recently, a number of faculty members have been publishing research showing that the comment-card approach may not be the best way to measure the central function of higher education.
Philip Stark is the chairman of the statistics department at the University of California, Berkeley. “I’ve been teaching at Berkeley since 1988, and the reliance on teaching evaluations has always bothered me,” he says.
Stark is the co-author of “An Evaluation of Course Evaluations,” a new paper that explains some of the reasons why.