Some Students Question Instructor Evaluations

Yair Taylor

Students at GCC are uncertain of the role they have when evaluating their instructors and the power that comes with that role.

Scott Spicer, Associate Dean of Instruction and Institutional Services, heads the evaluation procedures for the evening teachers and some of the daytime teachers.

“The Student Evaluation forms with [an evaluation committee] are a fairly standard method of evaluation to see if the teachers are connecting with their students,” said Spicer.

The questions on the evaluation forms are agreed upon by administration and faculty during the annual contract negotiations and can potentially be revised every year.

Typically, adjunct, or part-time, instructors are evaluated annually by their students and the division chair. Instructors seeking tenure go through a four-year review process and are evaluated every year by both the Student Evaluation Forms and an evaluating committee — usually an administrator, the division chair, and a tenured peer chosen by the person evaluated.

Full-time, tenured instructors are evaluated every three years by their students as well as an evaluation committee. As a rule, teachers who are not yet tenured are evaluated in every class they teach.

Currently, the Student Evaluation forms rate the instructor’s performance in and out of class and the student’s overall rating of the class. The size of the student’s class load and the student’s future plans are also asked, but mainly for organizational purposes.

Finally, the evaluation form provides room for written comments about what the students liked about the class and what they think should be improved.

Although instructors are generally informed of an impending evaluation three to four weeks before it is conducted, “they rarely know the exact day the evaluation will be given,” said Jean Perry, Language Arts division chair. Evaluations of teachers begin at about the sixth week, by which time students have gotten some significant feedback from their instructors.

The forms are completed under the supervision of an administrative or division clerk while the teachers wait outside. They are then collected before the teacher is allowed back in the class.

Teachers receive the results of their evaluations at the end of the term after grades are turned in. “I find that the faculty members are usually quite eager to read their evaluations,” noted Ron Harlan, chair of the Biology division.

Students never view the results of their teachers’ evaluations in any form, a fact that does not sit well with students who argue that they have a right to see them. “We should at least be able to see a general form of the results,” said Sean Bates, a fourth-year student at GCC. “It could then help us choose the classes with the good teachers.”

Faculty members stress that such a practice may cause some teachers to lose the authority necessary to maintain control of the class. They also assert that it is a private matter and should remain that way.

“The student evaluation forms act as a tool for the evaluation committee to see if the needs of the students are being met by the instructor,” said Perry.

The administrator, usually a vice president, chairs the committee and decides the weight that these evaluation forms will carry. In addition to administering the student evaluation forms, the evaluation committee also sits in the instructor’s classes.

While the administration and faculty generally agree instructor evaluations should continue in their present form, some students disagree.

“I think that more weight should be given to the student evaluation forms in the [overall] evaluation process,” remarked Carla Koti, a third-year student at GCC. “Because students are the ones directly affected by the teachers’ actions.”

Some question that the student grades aren’t included in the instructor evaluation process. But Spicer said they aren’t considered because “awarding a grade is considered part of the academic freedom of our faculty.”

All faculty members, however, do not share this point of view. “I think grades should be considered given that some teachers are far too hard graders and other teachers are far too easy graders,” said Susan Henry, a professor of English.

In the event that a teacher at any level does get a bad evaluation, “the division chair or a peer is assigned to help them,” said Spicer. Those who are part-time and have not improved by a certain time “won’t be invited back.” However, they are given an opportunity to discuss the bad review.

Henry, who is currently on an evaluation committee, quickly pointed out that “our students’ opinions are quite important to us. There is no point where a bad review does not matter — even if the teacher has been tenured for 20 years.”