Should grades factor into professor evaluations?

Faculty: New evaluation system led to more pressure and falling enrollment

Some faculty members at Trident Technical College fear that professor evaluations tied to a revamped term schedule could put their careers in jeopardy, Colleen Flaherty reports for Inside Higher Ed.

In 2014, Trident moved from a 14-week semester to two seven-week terms in the fall and spring, including a week in between. The shift means a full course load is now equivalent to two courses in the first seven-week term and three in the second term, as opposed to five courses over a 14-week period. The college is touting great strides under the new system, with the school achieving a student course success rate of about 75% for the first time in 20 years.

As part of the makeover, faculty members are required to undergo an annual performance evaluation that ties 10% of their ratings to their student success rates. No faculty members interviewed by Inside Higher Ed said they had inflated students' grades to earn higher ratings, but it is a concern because Trident offers no tenure.

Some professors also say the new schedule has resulted in lower course enrollments, with students unable to manage classes and jobs.

"There's been a lot of talk since we went into a compression schedule among instructors about dummying down their classes," says an anonymous professor in the humanities and social sciences division. The professor adds that some colleagues say they cannot cover the same amount of material in a class.

"And then of course, when your yearly evaluation is tied to student success and it used to not be at all, there will certainly be those who feel pressured," the professor says.

Those pressures have led some instructors to rely more on take-home or online exams, which are more difficult to monitor for cheating, and others to remove assignments from their syllabuses. The change has been particularly challenging for foreign language professors, who say they cannot properly teach a language in seven weeks.

While not all professors claim to feel the stresses of a compressed schedule, they do say they are confused by the complexity of performance evaluations. To earn the 10 percentage points tied to student success, professors must earn an "exceptional" or "satisfactory" rating.

There are 16 ways to do so, including:

  • Having 76% of students passing with a "C" or falling within five percentage points of the department average (satisfactory);
  • Having 82% of students passing with at least a "C" (exceptional); and
  • Meeting department averages (exceptional).

Trident president rejects claims of grade inflation

Trident President Mary Thornley has dismissed claims that the new system causes grade inflation. She says about half of the college's courses are taught by adjuncts, whose evaluations are not tied to student performance and who have seen increases in student success rates similar to other instructors.

Thornley also notes that of 335 faculty members, only six have been unable to earn an exceptional or satisfactory rating. Further, she says that while e[HD1] nrollment has dropped 10% since 2011, that decrease is less than both state and national average enrollment declines, which are both around 13% (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 2/18). 

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