Do evaluations matter?

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

Some students hate filling them out.

Others can’t wait to tell a not-so-favorite professor exactly what they think. Some take their time. Others rush. Some students think they make a difference. Others doubt they have any bearing on anything.

You might compare the teacher evaluation surveys that students fill out at the end of each class to a customer satisfaction survey.

But, do these surveys really count for anything in the end?

To a point.

Carol Peterson, SDSU vice-president for academic affairs, says yes, they do.

“Tenure, promotion, termination of the instructor? Yes, they play a role in all of those,” she said. “The surveys are just one piece of the instructor’s annual evaluation.”

That evaluation, required by the South Dakota Board of Regents, has been in place for more than two decades.

Instructors are evaluated in the areas of research, teaching and service. One piece of that evaluation is the student survey.

Peterson said all of these factors together determine if there is a problem with a particular instructor.

“If there is a determined difficulty with an instructor, he or she is put on a constructive improvement plan,” she said.

“The student surveys, along with other parts of the evaluation, can form the basis for placement on an improvement plan. If there are years of repeatedly poor instruction and evaluations, that can lead to termination.”

However, Peterson cautions that one or two negative remarks on a survey will not affect the overall evaluation.

“You cannot quote an isolated remark here or there,” she said. “For the concern to be addressed, it has to be part of a noticeable trend.”

Survey specifications and their impact on annual evaluations are spelled out in the negotiation agreement between the BOR and the Council of Higher Education (COHE), which was approved in October 2002.

So, these surveys are required by the BOR. Fine.

Students fill them out diligently and bring them, in a manila envelope, to the department office.

Then what?

The surveys are sent to the Academic Evaluation and Assessment (AEA) Office located on campus in the Pugsley Continuing Education Center.

“No analyzing happens there,” Peterson said. “They are just machine scored.”

Acting AEA Director Joann Sckerl said the AEA is just a facilitator of statistical compilation.

“We distribute them and then scan them when they come back,” she said.

“We compile the data for each class, put it in an envelope and send it to the department heads. We’re really just the middle-man.”

After data has been recorded and compiled, it is reviewed by the instructor’s department head, who then shares results with the instructors.

The BOR-COHE agreement says surveys must be returned to instructors within 20 working days after the start of the subsequent academic term. That means instructors do not have access to the student evaluations before final grades are assigned.

After the department head, instructor and dean have looked over the evaluation, it is sent to Peterson for final review.