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Author Topic: Evaluations are serious business  (Read 25334 times)
untenured
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« on: June 24, 2006, 11:26:34 AM »

I've read the other thread about outrageous student evaluations with a smile.

Yet, I cannot smile too much when I read these comments.  Student evaluations are for me no laughing matter.  Student evaluation scores directly impact how much of a raise I receive in a given year.   Nothing else from the evaluations matters -- not the written comments, not specific emails of praise from the best students, not the nature of my syllabus or an innovative pedagogy, nothing.  Just the numbers matter. 

This semester, I presented my undergraduates with a challenging course.  I expected them to participate in class and keep up with assignments.  I told them straight out that if they were not to come prepared, stay home.  I did not coddle them. 

The best students thrived on the regimen.  The lazy students of course hated it.  Naturally, I just got whacked on evaluations this semester by my darling undergraduates.  The lower scores are just enough to drop me into a lower "category" for raises. 

I ran the numbers, and my decision to teach a rigorous course just cost me about $2,000 spread over my teaching career.  That does not include the lost money from summer courses, which are based upon my full-time salary, which in turn in part is influenced by my teaching evaluations.  If my evaluations really drop, the cost increases dramatically.  The worst case scenario is that really bad evaluations in a given year can cost me as much as $7,000 over the course of my career.  Students will impact my salary like this each year, every year.

Thus, I have a strong incentive to keep those numbers up however I possibly can. The obvious solution is to make my course so incredibly easy that even the laziest, whiniest undergraduate can't help but do well.  I am tempted to flood them with wonderment for poor answers and shower them with praise for undeserved effort.  I just cannot bring myself to do this -- I just can't I care too much about teaching quality -- and it will (literally) cost me.  Naturally, I'm not pleased.

Be thankful those of you who can read student evaluations with mirth.

Anyway, this is primarily a vent so take it for what it's worth.  Thanks for reading.

Untenured

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case_insensitive
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« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2006, 11:50:03 AM »

I think we are at the same place... Sad, isn't it?

case insensitive

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science_expat
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« Reply #2 on: June 24, 2006, 12:00:34 PM »

Unbelievable! Your salary is directly tied in to student evaluations? Is this common? (I'm beginning to like the UK system more and more....)

With sympathies,
SE
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medievalisttoo
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« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2006, 12:04:18 PM »

Untenured, do you have a union?  This sounds like a truly horrible way to calculate faculty raises, for exactly the reasons you outline in your post.  If written comments and letters of support or --most importantly -- pedagogical goals and methodology were taken into account, that would be one thing, but the fact that it's based on numbers alone makes me think that you've got an administration that is lazy, clueless, or both.  They need a wake-up call.

So, if you have a union, take this to them.  If you don't, start talking to other like-minded faculty, and make an agreement to strike at the heart of this rotten system the minute your tenure goes through (if, that is, you want tenure at such a place).
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crazybatlady
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« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2006, 12:06:39 PM »

A few years back, a junior faculty member was busted at a regional U where I taught for faking evaluations; he would bubble in some of the scantron forms and slip them in the envelope, skewing the numbers.  They caught on when they figured out there was a huge discrepency between the number of filled-out comment sheets and the number of bubble sheets, far above the usual one or two--and consistently, over 2 years and 6 courses.

He'll never live down the reputation he got, and he ended up leaving.  He was a good teacher and a good scholar, and his students readily praised him and stood up for him when he was caught.  He just freaked out thinking he had to be above average every term instead of average, like most people.
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case_insensitive
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« Reply #5 on: June 24, 2006, 12:59:34 PM »

crazybatlady,

a colleague at a university where i taught some years ago actually filled all the forms in for a class himself and then turned them in himself... he was caught and claimed he was doing it just to show the weakness in how the evals are administered... he didn't get in any trouble.  very odd!

science_expat,

at my current uni, in my dept (and i believe the college), the numbers on the evals are the only thing used to evaluate teaching.  every scary for raises, for sure.  especially for folks who teach very hard classes or those that majors don't ever like taking but must, etc.

i have friends in other colleges within the university that claim no one ever looks at the evals and they have nothing to do with raises.  go figure!

case insensitive
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crazybatlady
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« Reply #6 on: June 24, 2006, 1:09:39 PM »

I have a friend who works at a place where all the evaluations are online, via a Blackboard-type system.  Students can't be made to do them, because they have no computers in most classrooms, so there are VERY few evaluations at the end of each term.  She once received only ONE evaluation from a class with 25 students, despite her reminders and requests to evaluate.

They either have to change the system or throw out evaluations entirely.  In her case, it's really broken. 
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larryc
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« Reply #7 on: June 24, 2006, 1:36:57 PM »

"Student evaluation scores directly impact how much of a raise I receive in a given year."

Wow, that is a terrible abuse of the system of evaluations.
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anon2
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« Reply #8 on: June 24, 2006, 1:59:04 PM »


I'm tenured. I don't care about student evaluations. Indeed, I don't even waste my time reading them!
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eightynine_point_5
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« Reply #9 on: June 24, 2006, 2:04:25 PM »

A long time ago I dated a TA who would sneak into the room where the evaluations were kept and take out some of the worst ones. There was no financial or job security incentive for doing it, all she wanted was the letter from her chair congratulating her for getting a 6+/7. Of course she miscalculated, despite being a social science ABD, and her score came out to a 5.9 and she never got her letter.

I helped her dispose of the evidence. It looked like most of the really nasty ones were from girls (judging from the handwriting). I couldn't believe how many commented on her outfits.
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crazybatlady
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« Reply #10 on: June 24, 2006, 3:05:02 PM »

I helped her dispose of the evidence. It looked like most of the really nasty ones were from girls (judging from the handwriting). I couldn't believe how many commented on her outfits.

Yikes!  She did??  You did???  They did????

My "favorite" evaluation nailed me for not spending enough time helping students develop sentences and paragraphs--in an MA lit course.  Surprisingly, I've never gotten a comment about my lack of personal style.
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kecko
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« Reply #11 on: June 24, 2006, 3:28:34 PM »

I'm just shocked that your pay is related to the evaluations. Can't the administration put two and two together and see that you could just give everyone an A and get a good eval? Or do they have a set across-the-board standard "average' grade you have to keep to?
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john_proctor
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« Reply #12 on: June 24, 2006, 3:32:28 PM »

I've posted recently enough and on other threads about how much I find the evaluation process limited.  My own notion is that the situation the OP describes is the worst possible.  It's a classic example of what I fear is a fundamentally poor idea.

Administrations are certainly able to "put two and two together."  The route they've chosen is the easiest for them. They don't want to extend tenure (too expensive and too much fixed cost); they don't want to use faculty time in evaluation and mentoring; they want students "happy."  Chairs either go along (and secretly rejoice in how much time it frees for their own labors) or can't do anything.

It's against the administration's financial interests to act.

Can't offer the OP much besides sympathy.

For the rest of us, let's let this be a reminder that the evaluation process is also something to consider in job searches (along with committee work, teaching load, etc.).
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smart_e_pantz
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« Reply #13 on: June 24, 2006, 5:17:24 PM »

Administrations are certainly able to "put two and two together." 

Most are.....  then there are the happily delusional like my dean.  He insists that course rigor has nothing to do with evaluations.

So, before I go into my meeting with him in a couple of weeks, I am going to throw my evals into an SPSS program and test the relationship between complaints about the amount of homework and evaluation of course and instructor worth.
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crazybatlady
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« Reply #14 on: June 24, 2006, 5:32:17 PM »

Wasn't there something recently on the Chronicle about the correlation between As and good evaluations?
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