The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 18th, 2014
Student course evaluations are often misused statistically and shed
little light on the quality of teaching, two scholars at the University
of California at Berkeley argue in the draft of a new paper.
"We’re confusing consumer satisfaction with product value," Philip B.
Stark, a professor of statistics at Berkeley, said in an interview.
"An Evaluation of Course Evaluations,"
which he wrote with Richard Freishtat, senior consultant at Berkeley’s
Center for Teaching and Learning, lays out a mathematical critique of
the evaluations and describes an alternative vision for analyzing and
Even though evaluations have become ubiquitous in academe, they
remain controversial because they often assume a high-stakes role in
determining tenure and promotion. But they persist because they are easy
to produce, administer, and tabulate, Mr. Stark said. And because they
are based on Likert scales whose results can be added and averaged, he
said, they offer the comfort of a number. But it is a false kind of
security. "Averages of numerical student ratings have an air of
objectivity," the authors write, "simply because they are numerical."