Course evals have zero correlation to student achievement, study finds

Higher scores on student teaching evaluations are not associated with greater student achievement, according to a new meta-analysis published in Studies in Educational Evaluation.

Researchers analyzed data from 97 studies that have been cited repeatedly as evidence that student evaluations of teaching [SET] correlate with student achievement. One meta-analysis based on 41 studies, for example, identified a strong relationship between overall instructor rating and student performance, particularly in terms of skill and structure. 

However, the latest meta-analysis tears apart the previous studies. Researchers say they have numerous methodological problems, such as failing to:

  • Explain basic information like sample size;
  • Ensure that data are accurate; and
  • Account for potential bias in small sample sizes.

Ultimately, the researchers argue that the highest quality evidence suggests zero correlation between evaluations and learning.

As a result, the researchers say institutions should put less emphasis on teaching evaluations when making important decisions regarding faculty.

"The entire notion that we could measure professors' teaching effectiveness by simple ways such as asking students to answer a few questions… seems unrealistic," the paper states (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 9/21). 

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