Academic accountability of teachers

Use of student feedback in teacher evaluation needs revalidation

Dr Geer Mohammad Ishaq
Srinagar, Publish Date: Apr 22 2018 11:02PM | Updated Date: Apr 22 2018 11:02PM
Academic accountability of teachers

While there is need to ensure academic accountability of teachers working in higher educational institutions and welcome any initiatives and reforms aimed at streamlining teacher performance through student feedback or any other mechanism, it becomes imperative to validate and standardize any such system before invoking it owing to the fact that any biased or prejudiced feedback will seriously dent the career and reputation of teachers involved. Therefore there is need to doubly ensure that there is no element of bias or prejudice in the student feedback mechanism suggested by the institutions of higher learning. The existing student feedback system used by higher educational institutions across India is statistically as well as scientifically inaccurate and needs to be made fool-proof and efficient before utilizing it for the desired purpose. Standard practice proposed by UGC in this regard needs to be converted into best practice first. As per National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), “a standard practice qualifies to a best practice status if it results in high-value impact on any aspect of educational activity in an institution. Best practice is nothing but value-added standard practice. Continual review and improvement of a current practice becomes necessary to elevate it to the status of a best practice, more so in the present day scenario of fast-paced educational innovations”.

NAAC guidelines also stipulate that “students are supposed to be the most important stakeholders of higher education system. The interest and participation of students at all levels in both internal quality assurance and external quality assurance have to play a central role. Higher education is first and foremost about the enhancement and empowerment of students as participants in a process of learning for transformation. Any higher education institution therefore needs to ensure that students have a voice at various decision-making processes, formulating learning and teaching practices and the views of students are to be considered as the primary evidence on which the quality of teaching and learning is evaluated.”

Having said this, fact of the matter is that the present system of student feedback has a potential to generate many false positive and false negative results that needs attention. Existing system allows students to score teachers on sympathetic, personal, vindictive as well as other stray considerations and not purely on their teaching qualities. For instance in departments where total number of students in a class is less (say 10-20), few bad scores on personal and non-scholastic considerations are sufficient to bring the mean score of the teacher drastically down no matter if all others have rated him/her highly on all parameters. This statistical error needs to be rectified. Furthermore there should be some grading of top ranking and bottom ranking students’ feedback because top ranking students are studious, sincere, serious and forthright in their feedback whereas same cannot be said about the bottom ranking students who mostly remain absent, keep failing in internals and externals, do not complete their assignments in time and lack discipline. Every student cannot be placed at the same pedestal while according weightage or value to his/her score. Few bad scores of few bad students should not be allowed to ruin the hardwork, career and reputation of a sincere and committed teacher. 

While students need to be empowered they cannot be allowed to overpower teachers or vice versa. It will never be in the interest of academics. If that happens, instead of bringing some semblance of order and discipline back in our higher education system which the student feedback is understandably aimed it, it will only wreak havoc in the same. A teacher will literally become subservient to students’ sweet will and dictates. Teacher supremacy must sustain in a student-teacher relationship and decision making though there is no denial of the fact that in the changing global scenario it should be more of a mentorship rather than dictatorship. A teacher has to act like a friend, philosopher, counselor and guide of his students rather than a whip flouting master. 

Student feedback should be anonymous, external and tamper-proof for if there is any scope of tampering and manipulation of the same, it will only become a tool of vendetta in the hands of those who want to settle personal scores and grudges. All outgoing students of the final semester should be called to an external venue by an external agency for collecting their anonymous feedback or the same can also be collected online by a third party using a fully secure and confidential software system. Those who have failed or have had shortages in their attendance or bad track record should be debarred from this exercise. More weightage should be given to the feedback of top ranking students. Parameters of evaluation should be exhaustive rather than selective in order to remove any scope of ambiguity, lack of clarity and confusion. Five-point feedback criteria being used at present somewhere lacks in reliability, selectivity, specificity and predictive value of teacher quality. A ten-point explicit scale having greater accuracy and precision that takes into account all important attributes of a good teacher needs to be devised for this purpose. Before approving and utilizing the same, its pre-testing/validation must be done by seeking feedback from experts in the field on its clarity, comprehensibility, lucidity and un-ambiguity.

It is very important that teachers who receive poor student feedback must be immediately informed about the same for taking corrective measures and intensive in-house training sessions should be conducted to orient such teachers for improving their performance. Anonymous students’ feedback should also be given due weightage in the promotion of teachers so that those receiving poor feedback will get automatically penalized leaving little scope for any additional penalties. However teachers who fail to improve their score beyond a certain threshold level for three consecutive years must be penalized, for instance by withholding their annual increments, for upholding academic accountability. Entire feedback system needs to be made fully transparent while at the same time maintaining confidentiality of students. 

Furthermore it is high time when the Vice-Chancellors of our Universities should deviate from conventional bureaucratic ways and means and connect with their staff and students directly. They should act like field commanders by sparing one hour daily or alternately for making surprise visits to the departments and centres to physically check teaching and research activities, talk to students, staff, HODs and teachers regarding their issues and concerns, themselves sit in the classrooms randomly to witness teaching quality and suggest improvements instantly, counsel the staff and students persistently and even take action wherever needed. This will act as a big deterrent and automatically improve the system. They should prefer a conciliatory and restorative approach over an aggressive or punitive one.

Apart from seeking feedback from students about teachers and their teaching quality, written or online feedback should also be sought on regular basis from them in tune with NAAC recommendations about their courses, departments, HODs, university and its administration on the whole. That will make the feedback all-inclusive and help in overall improvement of the system. A Students Council should be constituted in every university that has a President and a Vice-President from final or pre-final semesters and a Secretary and Joint Secretary from 2nd or 3rd semesters duly elected by the General Council of class representatives who in turn are elected through secret ballot by the students in their respective classes under the supervision of a teacher who acts as student coordinator. President of the Students Council must have a say in all student related matters at every forum and decision-making body of the university and the student grievance cell must also be constituted and made fully functional in every university. 

Dean Students Welfare of every university apart from organizing student welfare activities must maintain a close rapport with Students Council and Students’ Grievance Cell for an overall supervision of the related activities. This will ensure student participation in quality assurance in a democratic manner and pave way for their active role in decision making and grievance redressal system of the university. It will also foster and promote cordial relationships between students and teachers and among students themselves. Furthermore each and every department must convene regular open-house meetings of all students of a class with all teachers of that department to facilitate open discussions between students and teachers regarding all matters which are important for both the parties. 

(Author teaches at the University of Kashmir. Views expressed are his personal)



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