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Students Don’t Always Recognize Good Teaching, Study Finds

Effective teaching has a lasting impact on students but is rarely recognized in their course evaluations, according to an analysis, released on Tuesday, of nearly 340,000 mathematics students at the University of Phoenix.

A skilled instructor affected his or her students’ performance in a course on a scale equal to moving their grade from a B to a B-plus, say researchers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in a report on their study, “Measuring Up: Assessing Instructor Effectiveness in Higher Education,” which appears in Education Next. The gain in learning carried over into subsequent courses. “It’s a boost with staying power,” wrote Pieter De Vlieger, Brian A. Jacob, and Kevin Stange.

The researchers analyzed data from a basic-algebra course at Phoenix from 2001 to 2014, using such measures as students’ scores on a standard final examination, their performance in a subsequent algebra course, and their evaluations of teaching. Because of the size of the for-profit university and the uniform nature of its offerings, the researchers were able to explore an unusually large data set and to isolate factors, like curriculum, assignments, assessments, and subsequent performance, that are typically highly variable or difficult to track.

High-quality instruction didn’t necessarily predict positive feedback on student evaluations, the researchers found. Instead, high marks on evaluations were most positively correlated with students’ grades in a course, meaning that instructors tended to be rewarded with high ratings if they gave good grades. “This suggests,” the authors wrote, “that end-of-course evaluations by students are unlikely to capture much of the variation in instructor quality.”

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