Evaluating the evaluation

For the past 30 or so years Castleton State College students have been asked to fill out a form designed to help the administration evaluate how well they believe professors are doing their job. The form, officially titled Castleton Instructor/ Course Evaluation Form, is now under scrutiny by a committee of administrators, professors and students who have taken on the task of evaluating it with an eye toward making it better.

During a walking interview, Academic Dean Joe Mark said the forms have only changed “once in the 24 years that I have been academic dean.” He says some of reasons the committee is looking at the evaluation forms are “for one, many people think that they should be quantified, and two, many students are unhappy that they can’t really do them anonymously because their handwriting is sometimes recognizable.”

The cover page on the form, promises that the instructor will not see the name of the person who fills out the form and further, “the instructor will see the evaluation only after final grades have been recorded with the registrar.”

Even so, some students still worry that in a college as small as Castleton a teacher will recognize their hand writing.

Nichole McAllister is a member of the evaluation committee who currently is serving on the Student Association as vice president of Student Academics.

“The biggest problem with the current forms is they are not anonymous because they are hand written,” McAllister said. “Most students want computerized forms.”

Senior Jenny Blandino said she has ripped a professor on the comment section in the past, but only “if I knew the teacher didn’t have a writing sample.”

“If I thought that I was going to have that professor a following semester, I probably would have been less likely to write the negative stuff and more likely to write the positive,” she said.

Heather Varone agrees caution should be implemented when hand writing comments. But she said she has never had a reason to criticize a professor.

“I try to tell ’em like it is. I think that if they are a bad teacher I don’t just come out and say that, I try and say you can improve on this and this and that,” she said.

Blandino agreed, however, that the forms should be more anonymous.

“I feel like a lot of my professors can distinguish my handwriting from others, and I think that that’s a problem. I think that they should not be able to tell who I am, she said.”

Both Blandino and Varone believe computerization would be the way to achieve that.

Veteran professors Mike Austin and Paul Andriscin, leaning back in the office chairs of their cramped narrow first floor Levinworth office, are quick to assure CSC students who worry about anonymity that neither of them spend anytime trying to figure out the author of the comments.

Austin jokes that “we have never been issued the fingerprinting kit.”

“It wouldn’t make any difference. I would not be vindictive. Anyway I have never had any reason to be,” Andriscin said.

Upstairs from them, geology Professor Scott Roper admits that “sometimes you do know who writes the evaluation sometimes you don’t. Part of it depends on the comments that are made, but I try not to pay attention to who wrote it. If there is a pattern in the comments, that’s when I become concerned. If one person makes a comment that nobody else makes, that will not be weighted as heavily as if several people make the same comments.”

The evaluation forms are important for quality control, school officials say. They allow the professor to evaluate how well he or she has communicated the course and help the administration evaluate the professor for continued employment.

“They are considered very seriously in several ways. First I know many many faculty have made lots of adjustments in their courses because of the student evaluations. Also they are read thoroughly by the Reappointment and Tenure Committee, which reviews faculty for personnel decisions, and they are reviewed very seriously by the associate deans and the president,” Mark said.

Varone and Blandino were surprised at that.

“Really? I didn’t know that. Really?” Blandino said.

Junior Eddie Carrano said he knows the importance of the student evaluations because “Professor Rutkowski stressed to our class how important the student’s feedback is in the rehiring of professors.”

A campus wide e-mail from Professor David Ellenbrook brought up the question of whether or not students should be allowed to have discussions after the teacher leaves the room.

Students who have experienced an evaluation session were there has been a lot of discussion among the class all say that this behavior usually occurs when there is a high level of dissatisfaction with the course and the instructor.

“It’s always negative when that happens. Like what are you gonna say? . Oh Yah!” Blandino said.

Even so, students and instructors agree the most valuable part of the current form is the comment section.

“I spend more time on teachers that I like. This semester I have a professor that I was so impressed by that I spent about 20 minutes writing her evaluation,” Blandino said.

Varone says the written part of the form can be valuable, but “a lot of people just really rush through them and they give their opinions but don’t explain them.”

Roper said the comments are very helpful and Andriscin said he uses them to improve the class.

“I find the evaluations work really well in adjusting if students aren’t getting what you’re trying to feed them. There are usually suggestions on there; ‘professor does this professor does that.’ Sometimes it says ‘don’t change anything’ but you can’t do that . you become stale in your classroom. You need to keep working toward what the students are looking for.”

And despite the effort to change it, Mark said many people like many aspects of the existing form.

“Everyone I have spoken to likes the idea of quantitative responses, but the only way to bind the quantitative responses, if we don’t have a lot of labor, is to have it done in some sort of online format,” he said.

He said over the years the college has done some experimenting with computerized evaluation in the nursing department and it “that seemed to go well.”

The importance of the evaluation form is evident in the amount of time and money that the college is investing in the process. Susan Wycoff has been hired as a consultant and the committee is in the middle of gathering information.

While time is always a factor, in this process the college appears to be more concerned with getting it right than the time it takes for a new form to be implemented.

An e-mail from Professor Peg Richards, chairperson for the evaluation forms committee states “Changing the form and/or process is an important one we take that responsibility seriously . We will be setting a target date for implementation sometime in the future.”

Austin and Andriscin spoke of how after the semester is over, grades are filed, and things have calmed down they both look forward to getting the evaluations.

“It’s the comments I look forward to. Boxes checked? Big deal,” An

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