Evaluation and feedback evaluating students

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All teaching involves evaluation, at the heart of which is making judgments about how to measure achievement. To be sure students have learned, a teacher must observe or test students’ performance in some way. Bloom, Hastings, and Madaus (1971) divide measurement of achievement into two categories: formative and summative.

Formative measurement occurs before or during instruction. It has two basic goals: to guide the teacher in planning and to help students identify areas to study. Tests or observations of performance closely related to learning objectives are useful for this purpose (Woolfolk & McCune-Nicolich, 1984). Summative measurement occurs at the end of a sequence of instruction. Its purpose is to let the teacher and students know the level of achievement acquired. The final comprehensive exam and teacher evaluations given at the end of the course are examples of summative feedback.

The difference between formative and summative evaluation is really one of purpose or use. If the goal is to obtain information about achievement in order to plan future lessons, the testing is formative. If the purpose is to measure final student achievement or the teacher’s overall performance, the evaluation is summative. Let’s now look at some common formats of formative tests: objective and essay exams.

Writing Exam Questions

Objective Testing. Multiple-choice, true-false, matching exercises, short-answer questions, and fill-in items are all objective tests, meaning that the items are not open to many interpretations or the questions are not subjective. When objective tests are used, the most difficult part is writing the items. (Essay tests also require careful construction, but the major difficulty with essays generally is grading the completed answer.) Before we turn to essays, let’s discuss some guidelines for constructing and grading multiple-choice (not multiple-guess) tests. The guidelines we have provided rely heavily on Gronlund (1982) and Woolfolk and McCune-Nicolich (1984). Importantly, we relied on these guidelines in constructing the 1100+ examination questions in the Test Bank for this text.

1. The stem of a multiple-choice item is the part that asks the question or poses the problem. The choices are called alternatives. The wrong answers are called distractors because of their purpose.

2. The stem should be clear and simple and present only a single problem. Unessential details should be left out.

There are several cultural factors that seem to make a difference in how people communicate. The cultural factor that emphasizes family, ingroups, and cooperation is commonly referred to as _________.


The cultural factor that emphasizes family, ingroups, and cooperation is called __________.

3. The problem in the stem should be stated in positive terms. Negative language is confusing. However, if you must use words such as “not,” “no,” “false,” or “except,” underline them or type them in all capitals.

Which of the following is not an advantage of speaking from a manuscript?


Which of the following is NOT an advantage of speaking from a manuscript?

4. As much wording as possible should be included in the stem so that phrases will not have to be repeated in each alternative.

A speech about how people can recycle trash to conform with community guidelines would most likely be categorized as:

a. a speech to persuade.

b. a speech to inform.

c. a speech to entertain.

A speech about how people can recycle trash to conform with community guidelines would most likely be categorized as a speech to:

a. persuade.

b. inform.

c. entertain.

5. Do not expect students to make extremely fine discriminations.


Most researchers claim that ______ percent of a message’s impact is due to nonverbal factors.

a. 93

b. 95

c. 85

Most researchers claim that approximately ______ percent of a message’s impact is due to nonverbal factors:

a. 90–95

b. 60–65

c. 35–40

6. Each alternative answer should fit the grammatical form of the stem so that no answers are obviously wrong.


The statement “the world is round” is an example of a:

a. fact.

b. attitude.

c. belief.

The statement “the world is round” is an example of a(n):

a. fact.

b. attitude.

c. belief.

7. Categorical words such as “always,” “all,” “only,” and “never” should be avoided unless they can appear consistently in all alternatives. Using these categorical words is an easy way to make the alternative wrong, but most smart test takers know they ought to avoid categorical answers.


High communication apprehensive students:

a. never receive extra help or prompts from the teacher.

b. are always perceived as more intelligent.

c. are perceived as detached and apathetic toward school.

High communication apprehensive students:

a. receive extra help or prompts from the teacher.

b. are perceived as more intelligent.

c. are perceived as detached and apathetic toward school.
8. The distractors (wrong answers) should be the same length and in the same detail as the correct alternative.

Which function of a speech does the phrase “In summary” fulfill?

a. to remind your audience to pay attention, so they can remember what they are
supposed to do

b. the conclusion

c. to remind the audience of your main points


Which function of a speech does the phrase “In summary” fulfill?

a. to end the speech in an upbeat manner

b. to sign off, leaving the audience wanting more

c. to remind the audience of your main points

9. Avoid including two wrong answers (distractors) that have the same meaning. If only one answer can be right and two answers are the same, then they both must be wrong. This narrows down the choices.

10. Avoid using the exact wording of the textbook. Poor students may recognize the answers without knowing what they really mean.

11. Avoid overuse of “all of the above” and “none of the above.” Such choices can help students who are simply guessing. In addition, “all of the above” may trick a quick student who sees that the first alternative is correct and does not read on to discover that the others are correct, too.

12. Obvious patterns also aid students who are guessing. The position of the correct answer should be varied, as should its length. The correct answer should sometimes be the longest, sometimes the shortest, and more often neither the longest nor the shortest.

13. In your directions to students, you may want to suggest that they select the “best” answer to each question, as opposed to the “right” answer. This may help to avoid those lengthy discussions about whether the correct answer was really correct or whether several of the other options might be correct as well.
Essay Testing. Essay testing allows students to create answers on their own. Some learning objectives are best measured by this type of evaluation. The most difficult part of essay testing is judging the quality of the answers, but the importance of writing good, clear questions should not be easily dismissed. Let’s examine how essay tests should be the written, administered, and graded.

1. Essay tests should be limited to measuring more complex learning outcomes (synthesis, application, and evaluation), which cannot be measured by short objective questions. For example,

Explain why a persuasive speech needs a different format than an informative speech for maximum effectiveness.

2. An essay question should give students a clear and precise task. It should indicate the elements to be covered in the answer. For example,

Explain Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. Be sure to discuss the five steps in correct order.

3. Give students ample time for answering. If more than one essay is being completed in the same class, you may want to give suggested time requirements for each. For example,

1. Differentiate between informative and persuasive speaking. (10 minutes)

2. Explain the theory of psychological reactance and how reactance influences audience response. (15 minutes)

4. Do not include a large number of essay questions. It is better to plan on more frequent testing than to include more than two or three essay questions in a single class period.

5. Combining an essay question with a number of objective items is one way to avoid the problem of limited sampling.

Taking the Subjectivity Out of Grading. Prior research has demonstrated that subjectivity in grading essays and papers is widespread among educators. For example, Starch and Elliott (1912) completed a series of studies that found that the same papers given to different teachers to evaluate produced scores ranging from 64 to 98 percent. That is, the grades for the same papers ranged from D to A. Neatness, spelling, punctuation and communication effectiveness were evaluated differently by each teacher. Follow-up studies found that these results were not confined to one subject area. Rather, the individual standards of the grader and the unreliability of scoring procedures caused the primary problems (Starch & Elliott, 1913a, 1913b, cited in Woolfolk & McCune-Nicolich, 1984).

Furthermore, certain qualities of an essay itself were found to influence grades. For example, in a study of grading practices of 16 law schools, Linn, Klein, and Hart (1972) found that neatly written, verbose, jargon-filled essays with few grammatical and construction errors were given the best grades. Other research indicates that teachers often reward quantity (verbosity) rather than quality in essays (Woolfolk & McCune-Nicolich, 1984, p. 552).

There are several ways to avoid the problems of subjectivity and to ensure fairness and accuracy in grading essays:

1. Construct a model answer first. That is, you should outline the answer you expect your students to provide.

2. Preassign various point values to each part of the answer.

3. Perhaps assign points for the organization and internal consistency of the answer.

4. Once you have assigned points, translate each value into a grade such as 1 to 5 or A, B, C, D, and F.

5. Sort the papers into piles by grade. The papers in each pile should be skimmed to see if they are relatively comparable in quality. What you’re searching for here is internal consistency or reliability in your grading.

6. Grade all responses to one question before moving to the next.

7. After you finish reading and scoring the first question, shuffle the papers so that no students end up having all their questions graded first, last, or in the middle (Hill, 1976).

8. Ask students to put their names on the back of their papers, so that grading is anonymous.

How to Assign Grades

There are a variety of ways you can compute and assign grades for your class. We have outlined some of the more common ways teachers determine final course grades. The first, norm-reference grading, is used by most teachers and understood best by most administrators, students, and parents. However, it may not be the most appropriate grading method, particularly if your class is small and your students do not reflect the entire range of abilities evidenced in the normal population. College students, on the whole, represent a skewed distribution of abilities and achievements—most have a history of obtaining Cs or better in school. To impose a normal curve onto students who are already abnormal, that is, high achievers, is inappropriate.

Criterion-reference grading is one of the best approaches, as you will see below. After all, this method requires that students achieve at some standard that you set beforehand. The criteria are spelled out before the student even enters the classroom, so that both you and the student know what it takes to make an A, B, C, D or F.
The point system is an alternative that can be used in conjunction with either norm- or criterion-reference grading systems. It’s an easy way for both you and your students to keep track of grades as the semester goes along simply by keeping score. The syllabus supplied in this manual relies on the point system.
Norm-Reference Grading. In norm-reference grading, the major influence on a grade is the student’s standing in comparison with others who also took the course. One very popular type of norm-reference grading is grading on a curve or using a normal distribution. If grading were done strictly on the normal curve, there would be an equal number of As and Fs, a larger number of Bs and Ds, and an even larger number of Cs.
Criterion-Reference Grading. In criterion-reference grading, the grade represents a list of accomplishments. If clear objectives have been set for the course, the grade may represent a certain number of objectives that have been met satisfactorily. When a criterion-reference system is used, criteria for each grade are set in advance. It is then up to the student to strive for and reach a level that matches the grade she or he wants to achieve. In this system all students can achieve an A if they master the necessary number of objectives. Conversely, all students could fail to achieve any or all objectives, depending on the inherent difficulty of the tasks involved. Criterion-reference grading has the advantage of relating judgments about a student to the achievement of clearly defined learning objectives.
Point-System Grading. The point system is a popular method for combining grades from many assignments. Each test or assignment is given a certain number of total points, depending on its importance. A test worth 25 percent of the final grade could be worth 25 of 100 total potential points earned in a course (or 50 of 200 points). Points are then awarded on the test or assignment based upon specific criteria. The criterion-reference and point-system methods may be combined, as we do in the sample syllabus. Using a point system has several advantages. First, it is easy to calculate final grades. Second, it is easy for students to keep track of their own progress. Finally, it helps teachers determine the relative weights or worth of each class activity or assignment.

Guidelines for Assigning Grades

We know that calculating and assigning grades are the least agreeable activities for any teacher. You can have a really good class, generate a lot of enthusiasm, and build positive affect with students—up until the first speech evaluation or exam. At that point, students may become irritable, angry, and even hostile if they feel you have been unfair or unreasonable in your grading practices. To save yourself some of this negative feedback and to ensure that everyone understands your grading policies, we suggest you practice the following tips (modified from Drayer, 1979, pp. 182–187).

1. Explain your grading policies to students the first day or the first week in the course. Remind them of your policies regularly; students may forget or need to be told more than once. Be sure to include your grading policy on your course contract or syllabus.

2. Set reasonable standards.

3. Base your grades on as much objective evidence as possible. Participation is subjective and may suffer from teacher bias. For example, attractive, outgoing students receive more attention and better grades than unattractive, quiet students. In some cases, however, the talkative student is perceived as a problem student, while the quiet one is thought to be the perfect student. Obviously, then, the communication behaviors of students in the classroom affect the perceptions made about them, and thus their participation grade. If you really want to grade participation, perhaps you should consider doing in-class activities, with each activity representing a certain number of points in the class.

4. Be sure students understand test and assignment directions. You may want to write out the instructions on a handout or outline them on the board.

5. Ask clear questions focusing on important material that has been taught.

6. Watch for cheating during tests. Do not leave the classroom. Walk around the room; let your students know you are attentive but are not hounding them. Be firm but reasonable when you encounter cheating.

7. Correct, return, and discuss tests as soon as possible. Turnaround time should be no longer than one week. Remember: Students like (and expect) immediate feedback.

8. As a rule, do not change a grade unless you make a clerical or calculation error. Make sure you can defend the grade assigned in the first place.

9. Guard against bias in grading. You may want students to put their names on the back of their papers or use an objective point system when grading essays or papers.

10. Keep students informed of their class standing. Of course, if you use a point system, students can easily keep track of their own records.

11. Give students the benefit of the doubt. All measurement techniques involve error. Unless there is a very good reason not to, give the higher grade in borderline cases.

12. Review your exam questions or assignment. If a large number of students miss the same question or part of an assignment in the same way, revise the question or assignment for the future and consider throwing it out for that assignment. When you admit your errors to students, they are more likely to perceive you as flexible, responsive, and ethical.


Students aren’t the only ones who are evaluated; teachers, too, are graded on their performance in the classroom. Sometimes these grades or evaluations may not seem all that fair. Some students, for instance, may complain that you are not available during office hours when, in fact, you are always there. The point is, you may be right, but if students don’t perceive that you are available (at their convenience), then they may indicate on your evaluations that you are not. Other responses, however, may be more accurate than you want to admit. Treat your evaluations and students’ written comments as constructive criticism to help you become better at what you do. Try not to get too ego-involved and defensive. Even though negative feedback hurts, you will still want to know what you do wrong and how to become a more effective teacher in the long run.

Remember, also, that teaching is not a popularity contest. Not all students will like you. Not all students will appreciate your sense of humor. Not all students will learn from you. Even so, you must develop a certain thickness to your skin by shrugging it off and doing better next time with the next group. All teachers have a bad class sometime; all have one or two students who seem to ruin the rest of the class. Fight it off—try not to yield to the perceptions of a few, but instead approach each day with renewed energy and commitment to do the best you can.
In this section, we discuss the entire teaching evaluation process in some detail. We hope you find teaching a rewarding and valuable experience. Teaching evaluations are the best and only way you can discover what you should or should not be doing. Teaching evaluations, in the final analysis, are the best and only way of becoming the kind of teacher you want to be. After all, teaching evaluations are a form of feedback—a way of discerning if students are receiving the message you intend.

Formal Student Feedback

Most universities, colleges, and departments require you to have students rate your teaching performance. Chairs and personnel committees often use such ratings as the primary source of information about your teaching effectiveness. You may also want to elicit summative or final course feedback to help plan for future course development and teaching strategies.

Research indicates that students seem to learn more with instructors they rate high in clarity of presentation, organization, and planning. Students who perceive themselves as having learned also tend to learn more. Of course, academic learning is not the only important criterion for assessing teaching effectiveness. You may want your students to enjoy their college experience, be absent less often, develop positive self-concepts, and feel confidence in being able to prepare and deliver a speech. You may also want them to take more speech courses or choose a career in speech. Information obtained from student questionnaires can be a great help in reaching these goals. Results may also provide ideas about how to make changes in course content.

When you receive teaching evaluations, take the time to interpret exactly what the numbers mean. Use your evaluations as a form of feedback to help you improve—and to know what you’re already doing right! What follows are some guidelines to help you accurately interpret your students’ evaluations of your instruction:

• Compare your overall mean score with those obtained across all teachers in your department and college. Most departments provide that information. Examine individual item means, as well as the overall mean, to determine areas you need to work on. Importantly, you should emphasize also those areas that students really appreciated. Sometimes teachers forget to examine and reflect upon what students like.

• Consider the standard deviation from the mean for the department and school. This standard deviation tells you the range of differences around the mean. You should see if your mean falls into this range.

Let’s consider a hypothetical example. Let’s say your mean score on a 5-point scale for the item “Rate the overall effectiveness of this teacher” is 4.2. Let’s say the overall mean for the department for that item is 4.5. Is the difference between 4.2 and 4.5 (.3) meaningful—is it significant enough to warrant some concern from your chair or director? The standard deviation becomes critical here. If the standard deviation is greater than .3 (and it probably will be), then you don’t have to worry. If the standard deviation is smaller, then you should feel compelled to work harder to increase your rating.

• Read all of the written comments, but don’t let a single isolated negative comment embedded within a lot of other positive feedback trigger a backlash. Keep isolated comments in perspective. Once again, not everyone is going to like you (even if they should!). If others validate those negative perceptions, of course, you must treat them as legitimate, honest, and worth your scrutiny.

Informal Student Feedback

During the course, you may want to elicit informal feedback from your students as well. Why wait till the end of the term to determine what you did wrong (or right)? For example, you may ask them once a week or every three weeks to write down on a piece of paper some constructive feedback about how the course is going and your own teaching. The critical point of collecting this feedback is to use the feedback. That is, show your students that you are concerned about their learning experience. For example, if your students complain that they need extra time with you, you may want to consider changing your office hours, or you may need to come in early or stay late after class to accommodate them. The key is to respond to the feedback you receive from your students and to tell them when you do.

Guidelines to Help You Improve Your Teacher Ratings

Finally, here are a few suggestions to help you improve your teacher ratings and your overall teaching effectiveness:

1. Obtain a copy of the teacher evaluation form used by your department and examine each item carefully. Think of them as criteria for teaching effectiveness. Read them over again before you enter the classroom—each and every day. This procedure will help you keep in mind the important and relevant criteria on which students will be judging your teaching effectiveness. In this way, you will be in a better position to try to match your own teaching performance with the criteria your department has determined as important.

2. Organize your lessons carefully. You may want to put your outline on an overhead or on the board. (Transparency masters are available in Part 8.) Students will quickly get the idea that you are, in fact, organized. At the same time, you will have available your notes for teaching.

3. Strive for clarity in your explanations by using concrete examples and illustrations. Try to think of examples and stories before class. Sometimes applying the principles and concepts is harder than defining them. Immediately after giving your own illustration, ask your students to supply one or two more. In this way, they become actively involved in the learning experience—and you can see if they truly understand the concept.

4. Communicate enthusiasm for your subject and students. Look like you are excited to see them. Tell them so. No matter how tired you really are, no matter how depressed you may be, you are still obligated to give students your best in your role as instructor. No students look forward to entering a classroom when they can predict that the teacher will be unpleasant, boring, and apathetic. Show them instead that you are committed to teaching, excited about the material, and anxious to be with them. Learn their names and use those names frequently in class. Make them feel special.

5. Keep all students involved. Try to elicit comments from everyone. Let them know that no matter what they say, their comments will be treated with respect. By example, show them that they can feel safe communicating with you and in front of their peers in your class.

6. Balance cognitive and affective goals. In other words, make sure that they learn the content, but at the same time try to get them to enjoy the material and the learning process. College experience should be exciting, challenging, and rewarding for students—help them believe that it is all of that and more.

7. Constantly broaden your knowledge in your area. Read the latest books; subscribe to and read the journals in communication. We can’t impress upon you enough the importance of staying current in the field. Information changes so fast; what we thought was true yesterday may not be today. But more importantly, we are always learning new and interesting things about human communication behavior. There is so much to learn. There is so much we should know.

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