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When Students Rate Teachers

With virtually unanimous agreement that the single most important in-school factor for learning are teachers, reformers want students to be allowed to evaluate them.  Yet as appealing as the proposal is, I have reservations beyond those usually raised ("Letting Students Evaluate Their Teachers: Bad Idea," Education News, Dec. 13).

I'll readily admit that some students possess the maturity to do so, but I've seen the opinions of others change years after graduation.  I've attended countless reunions of the high school where I taught for 28 years. Not surprisingly, former students like to reminisce about their experiences. Invariably, they express their feelings about their old teachers. What has always surprised me is their insight into how wrong they sometimes were.  I'm not saying that they have all revised their ratings.  Instead, I'm saying that the passage of time has given them the ability to distinguish between a popularity contest and academic excellence.  They're not always the same.

If the rules regarding ratings of teachers when students are still in high school are not carefully determined, serious harm can be done. The most demanding teachers would likely run a high risk of scathing criticism.  There is already evidence of this. Websites have sprouted where students excoriate teachers by name, even though they themselves remain anonymous. This practice is the height of irresponsibility, and yet it persists.  In other words, students can engage in libel, and get away with it.  Teachers have no way of defending themselves.

The fairest way of approaching the subject is through a policy that  permits students to submit written evaluations of their teachers, provided they supply specific evidence to support their ratings, and sign their names, which will be held in strict confidence. Anything short of that is an invitation to destroy the reputation of teachers.

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