Leveling the Playing Field: Should Student Evaluation Scores be Adjusted?


  • *Direct correspondence to Michael A. McPherson, Department of Economics, PO Box 311457, University of North Texas, Denton, TX 76203-1457 〈mcpherson@unt.edu〉. The authors will share all data and coding information with anyone wishing to replicate their results. The authors thank Myungsup Kim, Margie Tieslau, Janice Hauge, Young Se Kim, David Molina, Jeffrey Rous, and two anonymous referees for helpful suggestions.


Objectives. Colleges and universities routinely use evaluation scores to assess the quality of an instructor's teaching for purposes of promotion and tenure and for merit-raise allocations. This article attempts to identify the determinants of these scores, and to suggest ways that departments' numerical rankings of instructors might be adjusted.

Method. This article applies a feasible generalized least squares model to a panel of data from master's-level classes.

Results. We find that instructors can “buy” better evaluation scores by inflating students' grade expectations. Also, the teaching experience of instructors has an impact on evaluation scores, but this effect is largely seen as an increase after tenure is granted. In addition, we find evidence of a bias against nonwhite faculty.

Conclusion. Our results suggest that an adjustment to the usual departmental rankings may be in order.