Updated: February 23, 2012 5:43PM
Dear Mr. Bradshaw: I am a junior in high school and want to participate in an extracurricular activity that will benefit students as well as help me develop my leadership skills.
I came up with the idea of publishing a course evaluation guide created by students. I would like to see an evaluation at the end of each semester so that the information is available for students and teachers when it comes time to select classes.
Many students have had bad experiences picking classes and I feel their voice needs to be heard. Any suggestions?
Dear Student: While an evaluation guide developed by students might prove valuable in selecting a class I find it hard to suggest a way that you could gather the information necessary to publish it. It would take cooperation from your school administration and teachers and the process would invite evaluators to critique classes and ultimately the teachers who teach them.
Because teacher evaluations have been the subject of debate for many years I am not sure that you want to get in the middle of what is a really sticky situation. I am familiar with the public school system and teacher contracts.
Administrators believe that teacher evaluations are in their purview and teachers believe that their contracts and tenure are sacrosanct. There is already a ton of controversy without students becoming involved in the evaluation process. Even if you decided to take your project off-campus it could be controversial.
This is not to say there is not a need for a student led course evaluation. The problem will be in coming up with an instrument that is useful to the student, fair to the teachers and meets the guidelines of the administration.
Students would tend to give high ratings to classes that are enjoyable and not particularity difficult. Classes that require a lot of homework and testing would get lower scores.
As a result, far from acting as a resource for teachers, the evaluation process you are proposing is more a guide for students, helping them to select the courses that are fun and manageable at the same time.
If you intend to go forward with your project you might think about working with a select group of teachers to develop an evaluation system. Perhaps you can help them develop a survey, which can be adapted specifically to the parameters of a particular class with questions chosen by the teacher.
If a teacher agrees to allow an evaluation of his or her class at least their input will have a role in the development of the survey.
To be successful, the evaluation should avoid adopting an overly professional and impersonal tone. The more informal the tone the greater the number of students respondents. Instead of asking whether a class has turned a student into a better citizen, the questionnaire should ask questions that speak directly to student feelings about the atmosphere in the classroom and the level of difficulty.
The best way to make the evaluation tool effective would be to make it mandatory for all students and teachers. By making it mandatory you will eliminate the bias that is inherent in any voluntary response system.
Students with particularly strong opinions about a class, as opposed to those students who are more or less satisfied with their experience, are inevitably more likely to respond and therefore skew the evaluations.
In the end, putting all of this together and getting students, teachers and administrators to sign-up for your idea will take a lot of creativity and perseverance. Be prepared for criticism and there could be backlash. But if you do succeed it could be a useful guide for all concerned, both in the process and the outcome.