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Should Students Be Able to Grade Their Professors? Exploring the Benefits and Limitations of Course Evaluations

By Allison Pursell

CHATTANOOGA, TN ( The relationship between students and professors is at the core of the educational experience. While traditional grading systems allow professors to assess students, the question arises: should students be able to evaluate their professors? In recent years, the idea of students grading their professors has been a topic of debate among the education community. Advocates argue that it empowers students and promotes accountability, while skeptics question the validity and potential biases of such evaluations.

Student receiving paper from professor.

Students assessing their instructors are intended to improve the educational experience by providing meaningful input. According to an opinion piece in The Washburn Review, “Students have a unique perspective on the learning process, and their feedback can offer insights that may otherwise be overlooked.” Allowing students to participate in the evaluation process can help identify effective teaching methods, encourage professors to reflect on their instructional approaches, and promote a student-centered learning environment.

Additionally, proponents argue that students have a vested interest in the quality of their education. As stated in an article on The BFA Mercury, “Schools should give students a voice in evaluating their teachers because students are the primary beneficiaries of the teaching and learning process.” By involving students in the evaluation process, institutions can foster a sense of ownership and engagement, leading to a more effective and inclusive learning environment.

Students in a lecture hall with professor.

What we currently have at UTC are course evaluations. Course evaluations serve as a common method for students to provide feedback on their professors and courses. These evaluations often consist of surveys that students complete anonymously at the end of each semester. The feedback collected covers various aspects, including teaching style, course content, and professor-student interactions.

Nicki Norris, an academic advisor at UTC, views course evaluations positively,

“I think course evaluations are a great way to help professors get feedback on their methods and overall approach to teaching course(s). I also think they’re a great way for students to anonymously give feedback and feel they have a say in their education.”

However, it is essential to acknowledge the limitations of course evaluations. The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University notes that course evaluations tend to focus on surface-level aspects of teaching, such as presentation skills, rather than deep learning outcomes. Additionally, evaluations can be influenced by factors unrelated to teaching quality, such as the difficulty of the course or personal biases.

While some believe that it is necessary to hold professors accountable for their teaching methods and performance, others argue that it can lead to biased and unfair evaluations. There are also concerns about the accuracy and validity of student evaluations. Biased evaluations based on personal grudges or unrealistic expectations could affect the credibility of student evaluations.

Director of composition at UTC, Jennifer Stewart, has been teaching for over 26 years. When asked about bias in course evaluations, she responded that there is extensive research suggesting student evaluations include biases that are frequently misogynistic. Stewart has experienced this firsthand,

“I often attribute negative, unsubstantiated commentary… to students who are frustrated for reasons beyond my control. I have received commentary on my dress and weight; I disregard those comments… on the organization of my course; I consider the points made and revise if necessary. I have learned to accept feedback with the same energy that is given.”

Peyton Fry, an upcoming senior at UTC comments on the issue of bias,

“If I had the opportunity to grade my professor, I don’t think I’d let bias get in the way of it. I just want to say what I honestly think about them.”

By emphasizing constructive criticism and discouraging personal attacks, universities can create a culture of respectful feedback that benefits both students and professors.

Dr. Kristina Mitchell emphasizes the need for a comprehensive assessment approach

The question of whether students should be able to grade their professors remains a contentious issue in higher education. While course evaluations provide a place for student input, their effectiveness and potential biases must be considered. Students’ perspectives can offer valuable insights, and better the education being received if done in a truthful way. There are good arguments on both sides, but it is evident that any evaluation system should be built with both students and teachers in mind. As education continues to evolve, it is essential that we explore innovative and effective ways to measure teaching performance and student satisfaction.

About Allison Pursell

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One comment

  1. In this article, it states that students are the primary beneficiaries of an education. This is a common misconception. The reality is that society is the primary beneficiary of education, which is why we pay taxes.
    An important point that this article does not address is the fact that student evaluations are typically tied to a teacher’s pay. That is a major concern, since a teacher will use high grades to improve the probability of getting good evaluations. This leads to grade inflation which is a growing concern.

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