Under the leadership of Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Barbara Lee, a task force of 10 faculty members and academic administrators has formulated the attached proposal to improve the evaluation of teaching at Rutgers. After many years of inaction, the administration is finally considering the implementation of a meaningful evaluation of teaching.
The New Brunswick Faculty Council has been asked to provide a detailed response to this proposal. In order to provide the most meaningful response, we decided to devote our annual Teaching Conference exclusively to consideration of this proposal. Our response is based on the Report of the Teaching Conference, as well as contributions from the Executive Committee and the Academic Affairs Committee of the Faculty Council.
The New Brunswick Faculty Council (NBFC) believes that Rutgers should strive to achieve teaching excellence as a key priority and essential part of its mission as a leader in research, education, and service. Striving for teaching excellence benefits our students and the broader community that we serve. Teaching excellence is a goal that all constituencies of Rutgers University can embrace and support. lt should be reinforced and rewarded at all levels and ranks. This requires the collective effort and commitment of both the administration and the faculty.
The NBFC believes that the proposal to improve evaluation of teaching at Rutgers University, put forth by the Senior VP for Academic Affairs' taskforce, is an important step towards teaching excellence. This document outlines our recommendations for aligning that proposal even more closely with this objective.
Achieving Teaching Excellence
Ensuring that Rutgers delivers high-quality instruction in the classroom and online requires a comprehensive program that includes development and adoption of the following:
- Standards of teaching excellence - both university-wide and specific to individual departments and disciplines. These standards must be designed to enable students to achieve the learning goals that are critical for their academic success.
- Programs to help faculty become better teachers and master the skills necessary to implement the standards of excellence.The programs should include training, mentoring, peer observation and teaching portfolio assessments, as well as other developmental initiatives and incentives. To be most effective, the university must integrate the delivery of these programs into a robust framework for faculty development.
- A system for evaluating teaching performance and skills.This system must include an overall assessment of how the standards are being met by the faculty member and mutually developed plans to address any gaps in meeting the standards. We anticipate that overall findings of such an evaluation would be that a faculty member:
- Exceeds standards
- Fully meets standards
- Does not fully meet standards in the following areas, with specific identification of gaps to be addressed and recommended approaches for addressing those gaps.
We understand and agree that the University must serve the interests of our students. Faculty who are not committed to pursuing teaching excellence, as evident from repeated failure to meet standards and a lack of participation and engagement in developmental programs intended to address his/her gaps, should be subject to less favorable employment status reviews. Teaching evaluation is an important component of determining which faculty are not fully meeting teaching excellence standards.
The current approach to teaching evaluation at Rutgers relies solely on a point-in-time collection of students' feedback and/or a small number of peer observations. We agree with the taskforce that the sources of information for evaluating teaching should be broadened to include high quality peer observations and assessments of teaching portfolios. Unlike the taskforce, however, we recommend discontinuing the use of student surveys in personnel decisions.
We base our recommendation on the extensive research in this area, which finds that certain factors unrelated to quality of teaching can strongly influence student ratings of faculty members. These include the instructor's gender, ethnicity, race, and appearance, as well as the course's size, rigor and subject area.1
Our recommendations also are supported by faculty members who attended the recent NBFC sponsored teaching conference and expressed nearly universal agreement that student evaluations are inappropriate instruments for summative evaluations of faculty members' teaching. The major Teaching Conference recommendations on student and peer evaluations are summarized in the Appendix to this document. (See the Report of the Teaching Conference for the complete recommendations of attendees.)
We also feel strongly that improving the quality of teaching evaluations at Rutgers University will require additional resources. Without those resources, most departments will not carry out thorough classroom and other peer observations. We recommend that each department be allocated the resources that it needs to carry out high quality teaching evaluations of all of its faculty members - tenure track, NTT and PTL.
1 See for example: Susan A. Basow and Julie L. Martin (2012) Bias in Student Evaluations, ln Effective Evaluation of Teaching: A Guide for facuity and Administrators, Mary E Kite (Ed). Society for the Teaching of Psychology. Available at: https://dspace.lafayette.edu/bitstream/handle/10385/1405/Basow-EffectiveEvaluationofTeaching-2013.pdf?sequence=1
The New Brunswick Faculty Council endorses this Response to the "Proposal to Improve the Evaluation of Teaching at Rutgers University" and strongly urges the administration to adopt our recommendations.
Appendix: Summary of Major Teaching Conference Recommendations
The Rutgers teaching conference was attended by 106 faculty members from most of the university's schools. As part of the conference, feedback on the three components of the taskforce report was collected via six focus groups composed of conference participants. Each of the three recommended modes of teaching evaluation were discussed in two focus groups. The consistency of responses across these independent focus groups demonstrates a strong consensus of participants' views.
The following summarizes the responses of conference attendees to the three main teaching quality measures proposed by the Task Force.
1. Student Evaluation of Teaching
Almost without exception, all faculty members who discussed this topic strongly advised that SIRS or other forms of student evaluation of teaching (SET) not be part of any personnel actions because of their unreliability, uncertainties about what they actually measure, and their gender, ethnic, and disciplinary biases. An especially serious concern is the effect of their use on academic quality. Many faculty members, especially adjunct faculty members, are aware of the important role that SET data can play in their career paths and may adjust their instructional methods to increase the likelihood of positive SET data. There is substantial evidence that indicates a relationship between high grades and high SET results. The significant grade inflation that has occurred coincident with the increased use of SET in personnel decisions is not an accident. There is also substantial evidence that indicates a relationship between low expectations of students in courses and high SET results.
Despite the nearly unanimous belief that student evaluations of teaching should not be used in summative evaluations of teaching for reappointment, promotion or tenure, members of the NBFC believe that properly formulated student evaluations of courses and teachers can provide very useful guidance to individual faculty members. For student evaluations to be most helpful to teachers, the current SIRS survey instrument needs to undergo a major redesign to provide more focused in-depth information about both courses and instructors. The procedures for administering the survey also need to be changed to insure participation of almost all students who attended class. The two suggested yes or no survey questions given in the Proposal appear to be unacceptable to everyone.
2. Peer Classroom Observations
This evaluative tool can furnish useful information provided it is very carefully structured. The peer observers must be free of personal or intellectual biases either for or against the faculty member being evaluated. There must be very clearly formulated standards of classroom teaching in areas such as preparation, mastery of the material, intellectual rigor, engagement with the students, and enthusiasm, upon which the observer must report. The faculty member who is observed should have the opportunity to add to the reports of the peer observers.
3. Teaching Portfolios
While a teaching portfolio in and of itself is not an evaluative tool, it is a mechanism for the faculty member who is being evaluated to provide critical information to his or her evaluators. Accordingly, very detailed guidance about the form and content of the portfolio must be provided to the preparer. Very detailed guidance must likewise be provlded to those peers who will evaluate the teaching portfolio