A majority of universities across the United States use student based evaluations to measure their professor’s performance, similar to a client’s evaluation of a business, a review of a restaurant, or a superior’s evaluation of job performance. Simply, universities are businesses  providing a service to students, and therefore, as consumers, the students benefit from the university’s efforts to provide them with the best possible education, and by evaluating their professors, they are helping to provide feedback on that service. The use of these evaluations is part of the symbiotic relationship between the students and the college.

The use of these evaluations is not always popular. Colleges have come under fire the last few years for using student evaluations that many believe to be biased and misleading. Articles from Slate, NPR, and others called the evaluations “bigoted” due to a trend of bias against women. Over the last few years the concept of professor evaluations has become an enemy of the press, and of the majority of faculty. In a recent study by the American Association of University Professors, 53% of college professors believe that the data received from student evaluations is useless. It is my belief that college professors are both misinformed and biased against student evaluations.

The idea behind most professor’s dislike of student evaluations is the highly publicized claim that there is no correlation that can be shown between the evaluations and an improvement in student learning. The problem is, the data supporting this claim is just as controversial as the subject itself. According to the Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University “an overwhelming majority” of these studies result in a positive relationship between evaluations and student learning. I believe this shows that many professors that are against student evaluations are against them for one of two reasons, either they are misinformed and unexposed to all arguments and accurate data, or they have a preexisting bias that can not be changed regardless of this data.

With all of that being said, it is still true that any method of evaluating teacher performance is imperfect. There will always be biases, whether it is conducted by an administrator, a peer, or a student. In any collection of data there will also be outliers. Unfortunately, there isn’t a system to evaluate the performances of teachers and professors that avoids these problems. However, there is a best possible method to evaluate teachers. It is not through the current system in place in public schools like the Ann Arbor School District, it’s a system that relies at least partially on the feedback given from students that actually attend these classes.

Recently the Ann Arbor Board of Education has clashed with the teachers’ union over teacher evaluations. The current system in place bases evaluations of teacher performance 25% on “student growth data,” coming from standardized testing. They also include feedback from both the principal and administrators. In the coming years the district may even extend the effect standardized testing has on a teacher’s evaluation. A bill Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a year ago mandates that school districts increase the percentage of the evaluation that standardized testing accounts to 40% for starting in 2018.

This current system used in Ann Arbor and throughout many Michigan school districts is highly flawed. The use of standardized testing is proven to be ineffective and inconclusive. In addition, the system in use has caused “widespread confusion among teachers” according to the Ann Arbor Education Association Executive Director, George Przygodski. The increased paperwork has retracted from teachers’ ability to work with students, while the results have been unclear due to both teachers and administrators lack of training in this new system, a claim made by the AAEA in a letter to superintendent Jeanice Swift.

It is clear that there is a need for a complete overhaul of the teacher evaluation system in Ann Arbor and the entire state. I believe that in a new system, students should also have the opportunity to provide input on their teacher’s performance. Students are the ones that experience what a teacher does on a daily basis. How much they care for students, how they teach them, and what efforts they make to help them. The people most qualified to judge a teacher aren’t the people that rarely see them teach, or the ones who write up the same standardized test used in distinctly different districts and states. Students experience a teacher’s ability to do their job better than anyone else.

This is not to say that student evaluations should be the only thing used, nor should they be used in all settings. The reason they’re used in colleges is because a college student is expected to be able to provide better feedback on a professor’s performance than a younger student would for a teacher. However, it is my belief that attempting to implement this method in high school would work just as well as it does in a college setting. Starting from 4th grade data shows that individual students are able to judge their teachers appropriately. This same data shows a consistency between different student evaluations. That is to say that if one student identifies a teacher to be a good teacher, it is likely that others feels the same. There’s still outliers in these student reviews, but no more than there would be using administrators. If given a chance to evaluate their teachers, I believe that most high school students would take it seriously, and actually provide constructive and helpful feedback

A recent study by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation supports student evaluations of teachers, even to a kindergarten level. The study found that teacher evaluations conducted by an administrator can vary wildly from year to year based on factors out of a teacher’s control, while students actually graded these teachers consistently. The study concluded that “students [are] better than trained adult observers at evaluating teachers.”

I believe that implementing a teacher evaluation system that asks students to provide not only constructive criticism of a teacher, but also has them answer survey questions that aren’t simply about whether or not a teacher is nice, or grades easily, but about what they experience in the classroom, how much help they provide, whether they learn, and if they believe they spend class time well, would be significant improvement. That type of survey based system was proven to be highly effective in a study conducted by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson.

School systems are not strangers to the use of student evaluations. Pittsburgh, Chicago and Atlanta public schools have all put student evaluations to use in their schools. In a Michigan school system that ranks 11th in teacher salary, 5th in the number of teachers employed, and yet is in the bottom 20 for graduation rate and has struggling school districts being controlled by emergency managers in several cities, including Detroit, it is clear a change needs to be made. That change can be an improvement in teacher evaluations for the better. The state of Michigan can make a change that actually helps students learn, and improves the school environment, not one designed to pander to testing companies or teachers unions, that ultimately proves to be an ineffective nuisance. School systems throughout the United States, including Michigan, should consider following the lead of other states and embracing this fairly new method in an effort to fight for education, not politics.

It is clear based on the data shown above, that student evaluations, despite their flaws, far exceed the results from administrator or testing based evaluations. It is also clear that students are much more qualified to help evaluate teachers than many believe. If high school students had the opportunity to provide a serious commentary on how their teachers have performed it would go a long way to improving the current system as well as improving an individual teacher’s performance. It is my belief that students should be granted that opportunity, to fix the problem of teachers teaching to the needs of a test, or to the aspirations of an administrator, rather than to needs of the students.