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RateMyTeachers inevitably flawed

I must admit, a number of preconceptions of mine were destroyed when I went through this site. The ratings and comments were not, as I had expected, almost universally negative, or at least not for my school; if anything, quite the contrary.

In fact, the site really does seem to have a good cause. The comments are strictly moderated and anything that involves profanity, sexuality, physical appearing, "mental", "alcoholic", race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, the teacher’s personal life or whatever else is on the no-no list—and I quote from the rules page itself—"WILL BE DELETED." And it warns that if you threaten a teacher, student, administrators, or school property, or yourself, then your comment, and I quote again: "WILL BE TURNED OVER TO THE PROPER AUTHORITIES WITH THE IP ADDRESS."

It pleads, "Please rate your teachers based on your opinion of their TEACHING ability. Please try to provide us with an insight into what is happening in the classroom." Its commitment to providing accurate, helpful ratings is reflected in their decision not to include "easiness" ("How easy are the classes that this teacher teaches? Is it possible to get an A without too much work?") in the overall quality of the teacher, because "an easiness of 5 may actually mean the teacher is TOO easy." In fact, I could almost convince myself that the site’s one that deserves credit—almost, but not quite.

Despite its good intentions, the nature of the site—the ability to leave anonymous comments at will as students—mean that it will never achieve its purpose. Only those that both care enough to type something out and click a few buttons, and have the time to actually do that, will be honestly represented in the ratings; the remainder will be those that are there to see what it’s about and to leave their mark. (Those who want to make threats get refered to the authorities.) The result is that ratings will be inevitably polarised. There will be some which seem to be at the positive extreme, like many of the teachers at our school, some at the other end, some that have extremities at both ends which sort of cancel each other out. But the "okay" teachers, and the students who know an "okay" teacher when they see one—as well as those who have more of a life than to sit behind a computer clicking "helpful", "not helpful", "clear", "not clear"—will not be there.

Well, that’s all very well, you might say, those who don’t want to be heard shouldn’t be. But it leaves a giant statistical flaw: the survey sample is biased. In fact, it is biased by the simple fact that a significant proportion of students are probably incapable of judging a teacher’s effectiveness.

Rather, it could at best be a fun site, at most semi-serious, that could become nothing but (at best) a source of gossip among students and teacher alike, and with an aim that is only unachievable. While it need not be banned, it cannot be taken seriously.

Related Links

  • RateMyTeachers New Zealand
  • NZ Herald: Teachers concerned about online ratings
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