Bias Educational Resources

Articles on Bias in Course Evaluations

Research on course evaluations increasingly finds evidence that bias impacts how instructors are rated. These studies underscore that gender, race, ethnicity, accent, sexual orientation, and disability status can impact students’ ratings of instructors. We include selected research on course evaluations below, to inform discussions and initiatives to address these trends and forms of bias.

Acker, G. M. (2012). The impact of accent on college students' perceptions and evaluations of professors. Journal of Communications Media Studies, 4(1), 63+. This study looks at the effects of professors' ethnicity and accent on students' evaluations of their teaching effectiveness.

This study brings light to the cross-cultural challenges that foreign-accented speech professors encounter in the classroom, especially with a student population from different ethnic, racial, and national backgrounds.

Anderson, K. J., & Kanner M. (2011). Inventing a Gay Agenda: Students' Perceptions of Lesbian and Gay Professors. Journal of Applied Social
Psychology, 41: 1538-1564.

Two studies were conducted on students’ perceptions of lesbian and gay professors. Students rated professors on topics such as political bias, professional competence, and warmth. The study results suggested that students might use varied criteria to evaluate LGBTQIA+ professors and their ability to teach courses objectively.

Basow, S. A., Phelan, J. E., & Capotosto, L. (2006). Gender Patterns in College Students’ Choices of Their Best and Worst Professors. Psychology of Women
Quarterly, 30(1), 25–35.

Over 100 predominately white students were asked to describe their best and worst professors. The study shows that more female professors were chosen as “best” by female students and less by their male students. There was no gender difference for “worst” professors. “Best” professors were typically described as caring and knowledgeable. The findings suggest that gender dynamics should be paid greater attention to within the classroom and student evaluations.

Boring, Anne. (2017). Gender biases in student evaluations of teaching. Journal of Public Economics 145:27-41.

This article uses data from a French university to examine gender biases in student evaluations of teaching (SETs). The different teaching dimensions that students value in male and female professors were inclined to match gender stereotypes. Men are perceived by both male and female students as being more knowledgeable and having stronger class leadership skills (which are stereotypically associated with males), despite the fact that students appear to learn as much from women as from men.

Chávez, K., & Mitchell, K. (2020). Exploring Bias in Student Evaluations: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity. PS: Political Science & Politics, 53(2), 270-274.
doi:10.1017/S1049096519001744

This article details the research showing that in instructor evaluations students are biased against women. This article also dives into the relationship between evaluations and gender and race/ethnicity. Findings of this research show that instructors who are female and persons of color receive lower scores on student evaluations than those who are white males.

Doerer, K. (2022). Colleges are getting smarter about student evaluations. here's how. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This article describes a study on the relationship between student evaluations and grade inflation conducted at the University of Oregon. The article continues on to describe the systemic changes that occurred as a result of findings of this research.

Fan Y, Shepherd LJ, Slavich E, Waters D, Stone M, Abel R, et al. (2019). Gender and cultural bias in student evaluations: Why representation matters. PLoS ONE
14(2): e0209749.

Gendered and racial inequalities are present in even the most progressive of workplaces. In higher education, bias in performance evaluation has been hypothesized as one of the reasons as to why very few women make it to the top of the academic hierarchy. The findings of this study suggest that these biases may decrease with an increase of represented minority groups.

Flaherty, Colleen (2021). What's really going on with respect to bias and teaching evals?

The study finds that course evaluations are greatly impacted by characteristics unrelated to actual instructor quality. Courses with lighter workloads or higher grading distributions do have better scores from students. Additionally, the study found that gender, race, ethnicity, accent, disability status, and sexual orientation had a great impact on teacher evaluations.

Hamilton, J. (2021). CSUF professor examines accent bias and how we perceive others. Orange County Register.

This article discusses a series of studies conducted on accent bias and accent privilege, while working to identify what factors might help diminish people’s judgment of a person based solely on their accent.

Wolfe, J. (2022). Inside higher ed. Teaching evaluations reflect colleges' commitment to diversity (opinion).

In this article, the author discusses how evaluations reflect the universities’ lack of commitment to diversity and provides three action items that institutions should implement.

Key, E. M., & Ardoin, P. J. (2019). Analysis | students rate male instructors more highly than female instructors. We tried to counter that hidden bias. The
Washington Post.

Throughout academia, including in political science, women haven’t achieved parity with men. This series explores the implicit bias that holds women back at every stage, from the readings professors assign to the student evaluations that influence promotions and pay, from journal publications to book awards.

Kreitzer, R.J., Sweet-Cushman, J. (2022). Evaluating Student Evaluations of Teaching: A Review of Measurement and Equity Bias in SETs and Recommendations for Ethical Reform. J Acad Ethics 20, 73–84.

Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs) have minimal or no correlation with student learning. Furthermore, data repeatedly finds that women faculty, faculty of color, and other marginalized groups are subject to bias in SETs.

MacNell, L., Driscoll A., & Hunt A. N. (2015). "What’s in a name: Exposing gender bias in student ratings of teaching." Innovative Higher Education 40 (4):291-303.

In many cases, the career advancement and outcomes of teachers in higher education are based significantly on student ratings and evaluations. In this study, instructors of an online course worked under two different gender identities. Results showed that the male identity was rated much higher than the female identity.

Mengel, Friederike, Jan Sauermann, & Ulf Zölitz. (2018). "Gender bias in teaching evaluations." Journal of the European Economic Association 17 (2):535-566.

This paper provides new evidence on gender bias in teaching evaluations. It is noted that female teachers consistently received lower graded evaluation in comparison to their male counterparts. The authors suggest that there are indirect effects on the career progression of female teachers as a result of these evaluations.

Miles, Patti, and Deanna House. (2015). "The Tail Wagging the Dog; An Overdue Examination of Student Teaching Evaluations." International Journal of Higher
Education 4 (2):116-126.

The purpose of this research was to examine the impact of factors beyond the professor's control and subsequently, their unique impact on Student Teaching Evaluations (STEs). This research could have great social implications if widely read across academic circles as it shows the biases present in STEs.

Rivera, L.A., & Tilcsik, A. (2019). Scaling down inequality: rating scales, gender bias, and the architecture of evaluation. American Sociological Review. 84 (2),
248–274. DOI: 10.1177/0003122419833601.

Performance ratings heavily influence career advancement for employees. The authors discuss how evaluators tend to rate male workers significantly higher that female workers, even if their qualifications and performances are identical.

Smith, B. P., & Hawkins, B. (2011). Examining Student Evaluations of Black College Faculty: Does Race Matter? The Journal of Negro Education, 80(2), 149–162.

The purpose of this study was to characterize the undergraduate student ratings of teaching effectiveness modeled on the traditional 36-item end-of-course evaluation form used at a predominantly white institution (PWI). Additionally, this study used critical race theory (CRT) as a way to compare the effectiveness of tenure-track faculty based on race (White, Black, and Other racial groups including Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans).

Subtirelu, Nicholas Close. (2015). “She does have an accent but…”: Race and language ideology in students' evaluations of mathematics instructors on RateMyProfessors. com." Language in Society 44 (1):35-62.

Nonnative English speakers (NNESs) who teach at English speaking, medium sized institutions in the United States (US) are often the subject of student complaints. This study dives into the extent to which these preconceptions are consistent in students’ evaluations of ‘Asian’ math professors on the website RateMyProfessors.com (RMP).

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