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Student evaluations of teaching (mostly) do not measure teaching effectiveness

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Student evaluations of teaching (SET) are widely used in academic personnel decisions as a measure of teaching effectiveness. We show:

  • SET are biased against female instructors by an amount that is large and statistically significant.

  • The bias affects how students rate even putatively objective aspects of teaching, such as how promptly assignments are graded.

  • The bias varies by discipline and by student gender, among other things.

  • It is not possible to adjust for the bias, because it depends on so many factors.

  • SET are more sensitive to students’ gender bias and grade expectations than they are to teaching effectiveness.

  • Gender biases can be large enough to cause more effective instructors to get lower SET than less effective instructors.

These findings are based on nonparametric statistical tests applied to two datasets: 23,001 SET of 379 instructors by 4,423 students in six mandatory first-year courses in a five-year natural experiment at a French university, and 43 SET for four sections of an online course in a randomized, controlled, blind experiment at a US university.

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Most cited references 24

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On the Application of Probability Theory to Agricultural Experiments. Essay on Principles. Section 9

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Student Perceptions of and Expectations for Male and Female instructors: Evidence relating to the Question of Gender Bias in Teaching Evaluation

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Hot or not: do professors perceived as physically attractive receive higher student evaluations?

Previous research investigating the influence of perceived physical attractiveness on student evaluations of college professors has been limited to a handful of studies. In this study, the authors used naturally occurring data obtained from the publicly available Web site The data suggested that professors perceived as attractive received higher student evaluations when compared with those of a nonattractive control group (matched for department and gender). Results were consistent across 4 separate universities. Professors perceived as attractive received student evaluations about 0.8 of a point higher on a 5-point scale. Exploratory analyses indicated benefits of perceived attractiveness for both male and female professors. Although this study has all the limitations of naturalistic research, it adds a study with ecological validity to the limited literature.

Author and article information

[1]OFCE, SciencesPo, Paris, France
[2]PSL, Université Paris-Dauphine, LEDa, UMR DIAL, Paris, France
[3]Department of Statistics, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
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ScienceOpen Research
07 January 2016
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© 2016 Boring et al.

This work has been published open access under Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Conditions, terms of use and publishing policy can be found at

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I have some comments:

  1. Use confidence intervals, not p values (cf. 'New Statistics'). These can be obtained by bootstrapping. If you really want p values, then report both.
  2. Put the effect sizes with confidence intervals in the abstract.
  3. Alter the empahsis to be more about the lack of correlation between SET and teacher ability. The focus on gender bias is not warranted with the small effect. It is clearly not "large" as claimed. mean r = 0.09 ≈ d 0.20, which by Cohen's standards is small. There is too much social justice warrior about this article.
  4. It is possible to adjust for the gender bias by simply adding a little to the females SET multiplied by the proportion of male students.
  5. Note which gender was the biased one in the abstract (male against females, not female against males, cf. Table 5).
  6. A simpler recommendation is that SETs should not be used at all since they apparently do not correlate with actual performance. Why have them? This side-steps the entire gender bias issue.
  7. Add to the abstract that the gender effect could not be explained by male instructors being better (i.e. findings from Table 4).
  8. The technical aspect of the analyses seemed fine to me.

Hope these comments are useful. Overall, I liked the article.

2016-03-22 12:29 UTC
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