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Why Take Student Evaluations Seriously?

It's inevitable, at the end of every semester students are handed a student survey to complete and return for every class. Like a ritual of epic proportions, certain steps must be taken. A large manila envelope is given to a messenger who volunteers to take it to the correct office. The professor steps out of the classroom waiting for the students to finish the surveys, place them back in the envelope, and send them out.

For many students such as Raima Ali, filling out the surveys gives her a chance to express her opinion about the class. “I don't like to drop classes if I don't like them,” she comments. “But I will write down how I feel about the teacher and class in those evaluations.” I asked Raima if she believes the surveys are making a difference. “Honestly, I haven't noticed anything different,” she replied.

I spoke to John McDonald, President of the American Federation of Teachers Local 1650 at HFC about the surveys. He states,“The purpose of the surveys is to provide feedback on full-time faculty in the school. It's a support for the teachers and the process is confidential.”

So what is the procedure from the other side of the envelope? The surveys dive much deeper into the system than they look. Once the surveys are completed, there is a peer committee that evaluates the data. Each full time teacher is coded specifically so that if there are concerns, they are contacted. Teachers are limited to two semesters of below average results before action is taken to correct the issue. If, for instance, the concern is not addressed by the third semester, then the Administration of the college must step in and take further action.

Jeff Morford, a teacher at HFC comments that the surveys aren't necessarily a guarantee: “The evaluations don’t guarantee that there is a [resolution to a] problem. Just something that needs to be looked at.”

Some students may not take the surveys seriously. A few students such as Benny Greer will write anything to get out of it. “I just put perfect scores so I can get it done,” he laughs.

I asked John McDonald how the peer committees take account of defaulted answers.

“There’s no way to make students take the surveys seriously; we only hope that they do,” he replied. “But a pattern should emerge [in the data]. Are we getting a small response? Or are students not well prepared? We rely on only what we get.”

However, students should know that they have other opportunities to voice their concerns in addition to the evaluations. As explained by Mr. McDonald, “Students don't have to wait till the end of the semester to write what they think about their professor. They can go to their Dean [of the department] and express their concerns. If there are enough students approaching the Dean, then action will more than likely be taken.”

However, if students choose to wait till the end of the semester, then rest assured that the teacher will not know whose honest opinion is whose. The whole process is confidential, which is why the professor is not allowed to stay in the room. So feel free to volunteer as the messenger when it comes time for the evaluations. Even if some students don’t take the evaluation seriously, teachers and administrators sure do.

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