Course Evaluations: It’s a Two-Way Street

Danya Levy, ’15

Every student over the course of their BHSEC career will fill out their fair share of course evaluations. Eventually, they will all become a blur—form after form, semester after semester, number after number circled. But do these evaluations actually have an impact on our school? And are BHSEC students taking full advantage of the opportunities for change that these assessments offer?

But first, some background. “The course evaluations are modeled after those used at Bard College,” Dr. Lerner told me, taking care to emphasize that they are “course evaluations,” not “teacher evaluations.” Dr. Lerner does try to look through as many evaluations as possible, and sometimes discusses them with teachers. He also explained that the course evaluations are administered by BHSEC, and that they are completely separate from the New York State evaluations.

It is mostly up to teachers to decide how to use the forms. Instructors always receive the forms after their grades for their classes have been submitted, but many do not read the evaluations immediately. Teachers with rotating college classes mostly seem to read the course evaluations when preparing to teach the same course again. With classes that do not rotate—such as high school math or chemistry—there is more variety. Some teachers read the evaluations soon after they receive them, while some wait until the following year or longer.

According to Dr. Lerner, students mostly do take the course evaluations seriously. But there is still room for improvement. The most common complaints that he reads are that it is hard to meet with a teacher, the workload is too hard, the class is disorganized, grading criteria are unclear, and there are too many essays.

In addition, the part of the evaluations that always receive the most attention from teachers and the administration are the optional comments. So, take note: if you have qualms with a class that you really want to be heard, write those optional comments!

Different teachers had different approaches, and some had complaints about how students fill out the assessments. Ms. Gamper explained that extremes, such as “This course is amazing! or “This course is awful!” are simply not helpful. She says that she always wants students to leave more constructive criticism. Some things that students have asked for on evaluations that she has responded to are requests for more hands-on activities and more Internet resources. She also noted that oftentimes, if a student is struggling, complaints about classes cannot wait until course evaluations, and instead should be addressed with the teacher directly, with a guidance counselor, or in advisory.

Dr. Rosenberg noted that for him, the most helpful comments involve what students learned, what they enjoyed the most, and what parts of the class were most unclear. According to him, the more specific the comment, the better. He also complained that students often fill out evaluations in illegible handwriting.

Dr. Marion explained that she always pays extra attention if several students complain about the same particular assignment. Although she often notes grumbling about the volume of reading she assigns, she says that she doesn’t decrease the volume of reading, which she believes is acceptable. Instead, she tries to make it easier for students to do the reading by giving handouts about how to read strategically and teaching students how to take efficient notes.

All the teachers interviewed echoed a similar sentiment: most students take the evaluations seriously, but they are still an underutilized resource for change. So, if there’s something you want to change about your courses, don’t hesitate. Be a good constructive critic and help your teachers out!

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