Grade inflation and teaching evaluations

I recently got my teaching evaluations back for a graduate course on approximation algorithms that I taught in the spring quarter.  They were significantly better reviews than I’ve received in my previous courses (which were okay – slightly above the College average).  I chalked it up to it being the first course I taught for which all the students in the room were taking it as an elective.  They wanted to be there.  If they didn’t like the course or me as a teacher, they probably wouldn’t be there.  The grades in the class were also higher than I’ve ever given before – all A’s and B’s.  I abhor grade inflation, but this might be thought of as grade inflation.  For an elective graduate course though?  I truly believe the performance should be almost uniformly high.  But perhaps the high evaluations were because of this higher-than-normal grade average?

In my last go at the undergrad algorithms course, the course evaluations were filled out the week after the second midterm, on which the students did not do very well at all.  (Yes, I probably made the midterm too difficult.)  My teaching evaluations?  Super low.  I do see how one could game the system …

Starting this fall, OSU is moving to electronic teaching evaluations.  If a student does not fill in an evaluation, they will get their grade several weeks late. If they want their grade as soon as humanly possible, they will first have to fill out an evaluation.  I predict that the number of filled evaluations will go up and I also predict that evaluation scores will drop.  I further predict that “bad” lecturers will see a bigger drop than “good” lectures.  Why?  Currently, evaluations are filled out in class.  So, to fill out an evaluation a student must be present on a given day.  “Bad” lecturers likely have lower attendance rates and students who do not like the course/lecturer are more likely to not attend lectures.  I’ll try to remember to report back …

From C's to A's
Created by: Masters Degree

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6 thoughts on “Grade inflation and teaching evaluations

  1. aram

    I followed that infographic until the last line, about how high teaching evaluations correlate with students learning less. Do you think that’s true?

  2. Glencora Post author

    Hey Aram – I’m not sure (I didn’t look at all the sources cited by the infographic), but I wouldn’t be surprised by such a correlation. I have heard many times students wax poetic about “easy classes”; “easy classes” tend to convey less material than “hard classes”. “easy classes” are “awesome classes” for your average student.

  3. Sean

    Heya, How about flipping the discussion around? Awesome classes will generally be perceived as easy. If you’re interested in the topic, want to learn, and are inspired by the teacher and class format, it will feel easy and you’ll likely do well. As I sit here contemplating my upcoming course, I think this concept of hard / easy is irrelevant. There is a certain amount of information and knowledge that any course must convey, but there is no reason to make that transfer difficult. Yes, some concepts are difficult but a competent teacher will find a way to make it accessible to all. This, of course, doesn’t mean everyone gets an A, but you should be inspiring all to want to achieve that level.

    It is a shame, however, that universities use student evaluations as a metric for teaching performance. At least here at Brown, this was never intended to be the case, rather they provided a form for feedback between student and teacher. Sadly, they now constitute a sig. portion of ones evaluation for tenure.

  4. Soroush


    In my bachelor, we had this online evaluation and it was mandatory with same rules, and I remember all my friends just filled the forms randomly and final rating was indicating nothing! I predict same thing will happen here, time will reveal…

    p.s: I wasn’t happy with my grade 😐

  5. John

    Grade inflation occurs because teacher salaries and those who administer them rely on state and federal subsidies. Those subsidies (taxpayer money) are proportional to enrolled students. Fewer students means less money, lower salaries, fewer tenured professors, and more students per classroom. More responsibility for the teacher/professors.

    Any program intended to raise grades will raise the grades of all students. Grade inflation. This will happen in perpetuity until the state goes bankrupt.

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