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Student course evaluations hold too much power

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editorial cartoon by Jacob Bogdanoff

editorial cartoon by Jacob Bogdanoff

After years of tests and grades, students are accustomed to professors evaluating their skills, but not the other way around. At the University of La Verne, students are expected to complete course evaluations, and in many cases, are forced to fill them out.

Unfortunately, in order to receive responses from students, professors have begun to offer extra credit as an incentive or, worse, they refuse to give students the final exam until the course evaluation is completed.

According to the University website, La Verne is “committed to collecting data and using information to assess and continuously improve the quality of teaching, learning, and services provided to students.” This collected data is rarely shown to students hoping to see the effects of their evaluations.

However, the refusal of some professors to give students a final or even a grade until they complete the course evaluation is counterproductive to the University’s goal. The quality of teaching is lowered as soon as a student’s grade is based on completing an evaluation whose results he or she never sees. Students rarely see the effects of their evaluations on curriculum development or teaching improvement.

University administration highly encourages professors to collect evaluations, which pressures professors to gather as many as they can.

These evaluations have too much power over professors, causing them to force students to complete the evaluation. Jobs and promotion within departments depend on the positive or negative feedback of each survey.

Even worse, many students have passive attitudes about course evaluations, which leads to mild responses about curriculum and professors. This leads to less meaningful results and no improvement made.

This is not a problem specific to La Verne, but that is drawing attention in higher education circles nationwide. “An Evaluation of Course Evaluations,” a 2014 study by UC Berkeley statisticians Philip B. Stark and Richard Freishtat, found that evaluations tend to reflect professors’ biases, not their teaching skill.

It truly is unreasonable for administrators to push course evaluations on professors and students. Students’ finals and grades should never be withheld just because they did not grade their professor. The data should be visible to students and not only utilized by administration.

Until La Verne gives students reasonable evidence as to why they should fill out the course evaluations, professors should never be allowed to mandate them.

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