Tips on Writing Student Evaluations for Faculty


This document draws its major points from the Narrative Evaluation Study Group, 2003-04. This group, in turn, drew upon the 1996 Narrative Evaluation DTF report. The study group’s primary finding was that students’ transcripts are bulky and the evaluations themselves are not very informative about student learning.

General Advice

  1. Our evaluation procedure is to divide description and evaluation, so every sentence in your evaluation should assess learning. Keeping the focus narrow can help you shorten the evaluation, a primary goal. One sort of assessment is not helpful to an outside reader: “Johnny did a good job at experience X.” This sort of sentence begs for a description of experience X and says nothing about the students’ learning. Instead, write about the skills and concepts that your students now understand, how you know, and to what degree they understand them. For example, “Jenny has only a general understanding of the principles of economics as evidenced by her weak exams.”

  2. Address your evaluation to outsiders: graduate school admissions committees, employers, school districts. This will benefit students as they will read about the ways in which their work matters in the outside world. If you believe your students would benefit from more a direct or lengthier in-house evaluation, you might adopt the practice of writing an informal letter to the students periodically in your program.

  3. Try not to compile evaluations from multiple faculty members over multiple quarters. “A common alternative practice, stringing together quarter-by-quarter evaluations to make the formal evaluation, falls short of serving either audience, our Study Group thought. It tends to be repetitive and diffuse, while lacking the candor of interim evaluations.”

  4. Be concise and make sure the students’ final evaluation does not include repetition. For example, it is possible for different seminar leaders to write the same comments about fall and winter seminar work, essays, etc. “We are convinced that the most crucial step faculty can take to make transcripts reader-friendly is concision.” Remember your audience: people who have little time and have to make a major decision about this student. Cited from the Narrative Evaluation Study Group: The transcript evaluation should be a succinct statement that makes judgments about  what the student has accomplished. It should give a picture of the student and his or her work from a specific narrative angle. Suggested limits  are a page for full year programs and 1/2 page for quarter-long ones. The evaluation should have a single author, who integrates contributions from others.

  5. You will  find further advice about how to schedule evaluation conferences, what evaluations should include, and the importance of timely submission of these evaluations here: /policy/evaluationwriting

Strategies to Prepare for Writing Evaluations

  • Keep accurate records of everything you require students to do over the quarter. The first result is that you can determine whether or not the student consistently submits their work in a timely manner. This is an important statement for your audience.

  • Record your assessments of the student work in a computer file as well as providing it to them. If you write at least one cogent sentence for each assignment, you will have plenty of material to draw on for your final evaluation.

  • Here is some great advice from the Study Group: “When a major project is due at the end of the quarter, write about it only once, in your evaluation, rather than in an additional response to the student.”

  • If you are in a team-taught program, meet with your colleagues to discuss the best organization for final evaluations. Keep in mind the concision highlighted in #4 above. You will be glad you did this, especially if you have faculty leaving and/or coming into your program after one or two quarters. Also, determine how you will award credit and who will write each part of the evaluation. Give yourselves due dates and stick to them.

  • Ask students to submit their self evaluations at least two days before your last teaching day. Give them a workshop on writing self evaluations (PDF) so that they can meet your deadline.

Narrative Approaches

There are a number of ways to organize the evaluation. Many faculty members choose one of these three approaches: (1) skills, (2) development, or (3) most important work. Unfortunately, the resulting evaluations often fail to clearly address student learning, they are hard to decipher for an outside reader, and sometimes they do not address the course equivalencies. Choose instead to address learning outcomes.

Since the late 1980’s, the national conversation on teaching and learning has focused on using learning outcomes in order to help students understand what they need to learn. Here is an explanation from Tulane University (PDF) that is very useful.

Learning outcomes can be an integral part of your program or course planning. Consider carefully what you want students to learn. Which specific concepts and skills to you want them to have? Put these in your syllabus as a list so that your students know what they will be evaluated on.

Evaluating Student Work in Seminars

Many faculty members directly address each aspect of the program including seminars. As mentioned above, it is more effective for the reader if you use learning outcomes as the organizing principle and then look at where the students produced their best efforts in terms of critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, collaborative work, and specific concepts. These best efforts may not have occurred in seminar, so address where they did occur.

Instead of writing that the student was quiet or did not talk in seminar, consider how you are teaching seminar. Are you giving students clear guidelines, do you have seminar rules, are you modeling how to interact in an effective way? Do your students how you are assessing them? Here is a seminar assessment rubric (PDF) which you could hand out to students. It will help them understand our expectations for seminar. Doing periodic assessments and telling students about them would also help students understand what you expect. Simply talking is rarely what we want: we want students to engage in the conversation, build on what others are saying, and get somewhere.

It is also important to recognize that some students may not feel comfortable using academic language because of poor preparation in high school or a feeling that this is the language of white, upper middle class students. Standard English has symbolic power in our society and in our school system. Many students feel shut out of conversations because they don’t know this variety of English. They may not be able to put their finger on the problem, so consider talking to your students about the importance of expressing ideas in the variety of English they are comfortable using.

Remember, too, that in some cultures, it is unseemly to talk. To hear from students from these cultures, find ways of grouping your students with specific tasks so that everyone can contribute.

For more information about these issues, see “Power and Ways of Talking” in Fiksdal, S. 2014. A Guide to Teaching Effective Seminars: Conversation, Identity, and Power. NY & London: Routledge.

How to Begin and End your Evaluations

Begin your evaluation with a statement of the students’ work over all. For example, “Penny met all/most/some learning outcomes in Ways of Knowing this quarter. She attended regularly, submitted her work on time, and collaborated well in seminar/group projects/labs.”
Next, explain to the reader that you will organize the evaluation according to the learning outcomes listed in the description. If you list all the faculty teaching in your program as the writers, you can use sentences or paragraphs that each person has written to address each of these outcomes.

To conclude, indicate where the student is in terms of preparation.

“Martha is fully prepared for advanced work in linguistics, expository writing, and library research.”

“Neil needs more work in writing before embarking on a major research project.”

“To conclude, Finn is a strong, conscientious student. He immerses himself in his studies (even when they lay outside his major interest areas) and is a pleasure to work with.”

For a weaker student: “Jeri has the potential to be a solid student if she focuses on her studies and avoids outside distractions. I encourage her to find an area she is interested in and make a commitment to put forth her best effort.”

Sample Evaluations