Commentary: Teacher evaluation needs improvement

As we head into the last half of the spring semester, we all know that one day just before finals our professors will open sealed envelopes of Scantron forms with questions along the lines of “How much do you feel you have learned in this course?” The professor will appoint a monitor to administer the survey and leave the room. You likely have gone through the process dozens of times.

The Student Government Association (SGA) founded the Teacher-Course Evaluation Process, or TCEP, in 1986. SGA hoped to provide the student body with a tool for showing its instructors where they excel and where they need to improve. SGA publishes the results to allow students to do research before course registration – to get a feel for a professor’s teaching philosophy, to estimate the amount of homework to expect in a course, to gauge previous students’ satisfaction with a particular instructor and so on.

At least, that’s what the TCEP was supposed to do.

If you’re like many of your peers, you’re a bit apprehensive about the day that flurry of pink sheets descends on the campus. You’re irked when the form asks you to rate usefulness four times, and banishes your suggestions for improvement to a tiny box in the bottom corner. You have no idea who, if anyone, reads the results. Worst of all, you aren’t very confident that your professor will read his or her own evaluations and act on what you have to say.

In 2005, SGA’s Academic Affairs Committee began a focused effort to revise and update the 20-year-old TCEP. After three months of dedicated work, we designed an entirely new evaluation form with more useful questions and more space for students’ comments.

We made sure to include the questions students really ask about a professor before they take his or her class: Does the professor speak clearly? Are the textbooks really necessary? Does the professor share up-to-date information about the field?

Two years later, the report has finally emerged from a faculty committee, which preserved many of SGA’s recommendations. The committee also suggested that instead of the notorious pink forms, students fill out the evaluations online.

They have even given the process a new name: Teacher Rating and Course Evaluation, or TRACE. This exciting proposal will allow the university to process your responses much more quickly, and will enable a comprehensive, easy-to-use analysis of every professor’s results to be posted online and integrated with the Registrar’s course catalogue. Northeastern students seem willing to adapt to a new online system in exchange for more accessible, useful and reliable results.

We cannot stress enough the importance of these reforms. The TCEP is redundant and inadequate. If we are interested in a true dialogue between students and faculty that will increase student confidence and boost faculty performance, the TRACE proposal is the way to go.

Last Wednesday, the faculty senate received the proposal, but adjourned without voting on it. They will take up the issue again at their next meeting, Feb. 28. We sincerely urge them to embrace this opportunity and fast-track TRACE for implementation this summer. The students are ready to raise Northeastern’s academic programs to the next level, and look forward to the university’s support in this endeavor.

– Michael DeRamo is an SGA Senator and former vice president for academic affairs; MJ Paradiso is currently SGA vice president for academic affairs.

Leave a Reply