AERA Issues Recommendations for Rethinking Faculty Evaluation for the 21st Century
AERA Issues Recommendations for Rethinking Faculty Evaluation for the 21st Century

For Immediate Release                                                                                                
November 1, 2013

Tony Pals,  
office: (202) 238-3235     
cell: (202) 288-9333

Bridget Jameson,
office: (202) 238-3233

AERA Issues Recommendations for
Rethinking Faculty Evaluation for the 21st Century

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 1, 2013 ─ A new report from the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Rethinking Faculty Evaluation, offers research-based guidelines for rethinking how institutions of higher education evaluate research, scholarship, and teaching for tenure-line faculty, in light of the dramatic changes in what faculty do and how colleges and universities are transforming in the 21st century.

Higher education in the United States is undergoing major structural change, and education faculties are hardly immune. The recession, coupled with a long-term decline in state funding, has led many colleges and universities to aggressively seek new revenue through funded research. Part-time and non-tenure-track faculty have grown significantly. These transformations have important repercussions for faculty use of time and the types of outcomes faculty are expected to report.

The report makes three general recommendations in the areas of teaching, scholarship, and outreach:

  • To evaluate teaching, focus on student learning outcomes.
  • To evaluate scholarship, go beyond a single-authored article.
  • To evaluate outreach and modes of dissemination, develop valid indicators of equality.

The guidelines are meant as a starting point rather than a one-size-fits-all solution; institutions along the spectrum from research intensive to teaching focused will find their own proper balance.

Recommendation 1: To evaluate teaching, focus on student learning outcomes. 

The evaluation method most often turned to – student ratings, sometimes supplemented by measures of teaching productivity such as the number of advisees – can identify the very worst teachers, but do not promote student-centered learning, and do not identify and reward the most effective teaching practices.  Instead, evaluations of faculty teaching should focus on what and how students learn using evidence-based criteria. Research suggests four kinds of evaluation that can help meet these goals:

  • Teaching portfolios and artifacts can illustrate how instructors develop and teach their courses, including details such as learning objectives, rubrics that tie those objectives to classroom activities and assignments, and tools to assess student learning.
  • Classroom observation using formal observation protocols can assess instruction and identify what kind of professional development a faculty member needs to improve his or her teaching.
  • Surveys and interviews with faculty members can measure how their teaching behavior changes over time and how well they understand teaching strategies.
  • Surveys and interviews with students can assess whether students have met goals for learning.

The selection and weighting of particular approaches should reflect the institutional context, including program mission, teaching loads, and institutional resources.

Recommendation 2: To evaluate scholarship, go beyond the single-authored article.

In many subfields of education, scholarship has been judged primarily through peer-reviewed, single-authored articles and monographs. More value should be given to multiple-authored work. Today’s educational research often requires multiple disciplinary perspectives and methodologies. Individual scholars cannot possess all of these perspectives and skills, so research and publishing are commonly group endeavors. Groups are often better equipped to gain major funding. When faculty are encouraged to seek large grants and to work with scholars from other disciplines, they should be assessed on the value of their contributions to coauthored works. Scholarly products beyond journal articles and monographs, including books, new research methods and measures, software for scientific analysis, and data sets, should also be considered.

Recommendation 3: To evaluate outreach and modes of dissemination, develop valid indicators of quality.

Faculty communicate the results of their peer-reviewed scholarship in a variety of ways, some of them quite new, to reach policy makers, practitioners, and the public. There are many ways of disseminating the results of scholarship in both new and traditional media that might count in evaluating a faculty member’s work. Valid measures of outreach and engagement must be developed in order to measure their academic quality. AERA proposes the following attributes to consider in assessing quality, but acknowledges the need for more research to establish the best approaches to implementing them.

  • Policy reports, presentations for practitioners and policy makers, and writing for practitioners:  Potential impact and reach.
  • Op-eds and media interviews: Visibility, prestige, and reach of outlet.
  • Social media: Citation and usage statistics.
  • Blogs: Status and credibility of sponsor; number of hits, subscribers, and links; geographic distribution. All else equal, institutionally sponsored blogs should carry more weight than self-published blogs.

In addition, community-engaged scholarship, consisting of research activities that faculty formulate and carry out with external partners, is based on three principles that can form the foundation for evaluating faculty in this area: reciprocity; recognition of and respect for mutual expertise and knowledge; and doing research for the public good. Institutions should use these principles as a starting point for evaluating community engagement.

Rethinking Faculty Evaluation, the product of a task force established by the AERA Council in February 2012, derives its guidelines from research-based evidence. Members of the AERA Task Force on Evaluating Research, Scholarship, and Teaching in Postsecondary Education included James Fairweather, Michigan State University (chair); Ana Martinez Aleman, Boston College; Estela Bensimon, Marilyn Cochran-Smith, University of Southern California; David Labaree, Stanford University; and Christine Stanley, Texas A&M University.

About AERA
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national professional organization devoted to the scientific study of education. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good.