5 Ways to Ensure Quality Student Evaluations of Teaching

Student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are a staple in higher education, providing feedback that can help instructors improve their teaching quality and enhance student engagement.

SETs are also often used as summative measures of an instructor’s effectiveness and attached to high-stakes employment decisions, including promotion, tenure, and, in the case of contingent professors, contract renewal.

Given the importance of SETs for faculty and the impact of teaching on student success, here are ACUE’s recommendations on how to conduct the most effective evaluations. 

Ensure that instruments are not biased against particular groups of faculties

In testing for bias, be sure to account for factors that affect student ratings but are unrelated to teaching effectiveness.  

Step 1: Test SET instruments for bias.

Step 2: Revise instruments and survey methods accordingly. One way to mitigate bias is to remove general items and make questions as specific as possible.  

Step 3: Repeat.



Write evaluation questions with the student in mind

Ensuring that students can accurately respond to SET items also means limiting questions to issues on which they have the perspective and ability to answer. Best practice is to simply ask students what happened in class—what teaching practices were present or not, rather than their perceptions of how well the course ran. 

Step 1: Carefully review questions to ensure SETs do not ask students to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction, whether in general or for a specific technique. 

Step 2: Modify questions to ask students whether a particular practice was used and how often. 

Give SETs a clear purpose and connect them to outcomes of interest

Determine whether SETs will be primarily formative or evaluative.  

Step 1: If SETs will be primarily evaluative, then analyze whether SET instruments are correlated with other validated measures of effective teaching or with student engagement or success.  

Step 2: If SETs will be primarily formative, then do not use results in evaluative or punitive ways. 

Step 3: Clearly communicate to faculty the purpose of SETs and provide resources to help faculty improve their teaching.


Ensure that faculty have the necessary training and support to teach well before SETs

Until expectations of faculty are clear and professional learning opportunities are provided by the institution to help faculty meet these expectations, SETs should only be formative tools collecting data that can be used for improvement, rather than for summative and high-stakes purposes, such as employment decisions. 

Step 1: Take tangible steps to provide professional learning opportunities to help faculty meet and exceed your institutional expectations. 

Step 2: Provide additional opportunities for faculty to improve teaching and learning with ACUE’s certifications, pathways, and courses.

Seek the support of resources and organizations that help deliver valid and reliable SETs

As an added benefit of an institutional partnership with ACUE, the Survey for Student Evaluation of Teaching provides faculty with real-time, formative feedback on their teaching.  

Step 1: Develop an institutional partnership with ACUE to offer faculty comprehensive courses for certification that equip them with evidence-based teaching practices proven to boost persistence and completion for students.  

Step 2: Implement ACUE’s Survey for Student Evaluation of Teaching that is fully aligned to the 25 core teaching competencies and five major areas of practice defined in ACUE’s nationally recognized Effective Teaching Practice Framework. 

Ready to dive deeper and optimize your student evaluations?

Read ACUE’s Student Evaluations of Teaching:
Best Practices White Paper.