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Student Grades And Course Evaluations In Engineering: What Makes A Difference

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.903.1 - 6.903.26

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Paper Authors

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Kara Kockelman

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This research investigates the impact of different instructor, course, and student attributes on student grades and course evaluations. The data come from undergraduate courses given at the University of Texas at Austin during the 1992 through 1998 calendar years. Instructor experience, standing, and gender; course department and credit hours; and student classification, test scores, gender, and other variables are used to explain variation in both grades and evaluation scores. The results of multivariate weighted-least-squares regressions of average grades given across a sample of over 2,500 courses suggest that the average male instructor assigns lower grades than female instructors, while lecturers and teaching assistants assign higher grades than full, associate, assistant, and adjunct faculty. Instructors teaching chemical, mechanical, and petroleum-and-gas engineering courses assign higher grades, on average, than those teaching aerospace, architectural, civil, and electrical engineering, and engineering mechanics. The results also indicate that non-Asian and non-foreign males taking lower-division courses for more credit hours receive lower grades, after controlling for student entrance-test scores and year in school. Weighted-least-squares analyses of average evaluation scores given to instructors were conducted over five different qualities: course organization, instructor communication, instructor teaching skill, the instructor overall, and the course overall. Evaluations from over 2,500 courses comprised the data set. In general, female students and African Americans rated their courses and instructors higher; and male faculty rated somewhat lower than female faculty. Instructors who had received their PhDs relatively long ago (which is expected to be highly correlated with instructor age and teaching experience) rated lower, except in the area of course organization. Senior lecturers consistently rated higher than full faculty, and assistant and adjunct faculty rated lower (on two and four of the five questions, respectively). Students in engineering mechanics and aerospace, architectural, civil, mechanical, and petroleum engineering rated their courses and instructors higher, on average, than did electrical and chemical engineering students. Also of interest to educators are the consistently positive and statistically significant associations between student ratings of a course and student GPAs – and the lack of any statistically significant relation between evaluations and grades biases (as captured by an average grade minus average GPA variable). These results are apparent only after controlling for other factors, including instructor, course, and student attributes and suggest that educators need not be very concerned about the biasing effects of “easy grading” on instructor evaluations.

Kockelman, K. (2001, June), Student Grades And Course Evaluations In Engineering: What Makes A Difference Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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