The results from student ratings of instruction are sent to instructors and to their department chairs to use in developing teaching goals. This formative application provides feedback for personal learning, growth, and course improvement.
Summaries of student ratings data are used in the faculty review process (for the courses taught by a faculty member during the period covered by the review; see http://www.grinnell.edu/offices/dean/facrevs/ for additional information).
Please keep in mind several important points about the nature of student rating information. First, the numbers are not considered a direct measure of teaching effectiveness. Extensive research on this question (not done at Grinnell) suggests that student end-of-course ratings do tend to correlate with other measures of student learning, such as peer reviews or multi-section exam comparisons. At the same time, it is also acknowledged that some aspects of teaching are invisible to the students or go beyond what they are competent to evaluate. The information gathered with these instruments is limited to what the students are able to perceive and evaluate on the last day of the class. This limitation explains why Grinnell's overall system of teaching evaluation includes multiple measures, including peer observation of classes and review of teaching materials.
The end-of-course form currently in use at Grinnell College solicits student perceptions of how much they learned in the class and the extent to which certain specific elements contributed to their learning. Of course, no matter how carefully we word the questions, students may take this opportunity to express their thoughts more generally on their experience in the course, including how well it met their expectations and how they feel about the instructor. Therefore, it is especially important to understand these ratings as an indicator of student satisfaction with the experience that they had in class.
While understanding the limitations of the student ratings, the faculty has nonetheless endorsed their use, for two reasons. First, this method provides all students with the opportunity to comment on what they perceive as more effective and less effective aspects of their learning experience in the class. Having the students' perspective can be helpful both for the instructor (for example, to stimulate ideas about what one might do differently when offering the same course again) and for the department chair who helps instructors to clarify their goals and strengthen their teaching.
Second, these student ratings are linked with multiple other measures, as described above, to build a more comprehensive picture of teaching effectiveness at the time of a faculty review. The Faculty Personnel Committee, and the faculty as a whole, have decided that no single measure is sufficient. Used in combination, however, they comprise a set of data generally found helpful in reaching a recommendation for the review.