The Audit II

This was the first year I gave course evaluations. I probably chose this year because it was a pretty good one and I figured I’d receive mostly positive marks. Lame, right, but not as bad as it sounds.

Fact is, I wobbled out of my first two years, hitting my door’s crash-bar shoulder-first, staggering out into the sun with a long list of Things Not To Mess Up Next Year underarm.

I had the same wobbly feeling this last spring but a much shorter list. I needed student contributions so I adapted a college course survey for high school math and passed it out. I had a student collect the completed surveys and put them in an envelope. I told my students they should keep their anonymity and that I wouldn’t check ’em, anyway, until after grades froze. And I didn’t.

Here’s the survey in pdf.

Every question ran along the Likert scale from Strongly Disagree (1) to Strongly Agree (5). Here are the results, a little commentary, and full disclosure.

  1. I felt like a strong math student at the start of the year.
  2. I feel like a strong math student now.

    [Really couldn’t be more thrilled with the Algebra numbers here: a bunch of kids scared by math at one end of the year and a mostly unrecognizable bunch at the other end capable of expressing questions and solving problems, all with a minimum of anxiety.]
  3. I enjoyed math at the start of the year.
  4. I enjoy math now.

    [Really didn’t do much with Geometry, did I? Ugh. Kind of a wash-out. ¶ Glad a few more Algebra kids like math than before but those negative numbers cut me deep.]
  5. The teacher was effective.
  6. [This question was too vague.]

  7. The teacher was enthusiastic about math.

    [I may bring this one back in a few years but I’m content, for now, that enthusiasm levels were appropriately high. (A couple of kids added boxes past Strongly Agree.)]
  8. The teacher showed genuine interest in students’ learning.

    [I can’t bring myself to reject those two dissenting kids as outliers. This matters. Not beating myself up or anything but I didn’t expect this at all.]
  9. The teacher responded when I asked for individual help.

    [Same here.]
  10. What about this class would you change for future students?
    • nothing [42]
    • the one minute board [4]
    • inappropriate, irrelevant, or otherwise redacted [4]
    • less classwork [3]
    • go slower [3]
    • [Duly noted.]

    • more group projects [2]
    • [Duly noted.]

    • make tests worth less [2]
    • get a clock [2]
    • [Noted and rejected.]

    • more time in class to make up tests
    • sassyness [sic]
    • less jokes
    • [Noted and rejected.]

    • no openers
    • more individual help
    • keep the classroom cooler
    • get rid of platonic solids
    • the classroom smell
    • cleaner room
    • a faster computer
    • more homework so when we go home we don’t forget what we learned
    • [Ulp.]

    • make a list available of future work we can turn in early
    • make the room look less like a prison
    • don’t give referrals the last week of school
    • [The line-up of suspects is pretty short for this response.]

    • make sure no one gets lost
    • don’t take away cellphones
  11. What about this class would you keep for future students?
    • everything [27]
    • show and tell [16]
    • basketball [14]
    • [If you aren’t playing basketball we should probably talk about this.]

    • the testing system [7]
    • [Hooray.]

    • donut parties [5]
    • overhead thing [4]
    • meyer [4]
    • treasure hunts [3]
    • [Ditto basketball.]

    • games [3]
    • graphing stories [3]
    • openers [2]
    • fake or legit [2]
    • [Ditto basketball.]

    • final skip option for those who passed all their concepts
    • miscellaneous question on opener
    • teaching style
    • the funness [sic] of the class
    • how we didn’t use the book
    • sarcasm
    • [Is this response sarcastic?]

The experience was valuable overall, cathartic for students, informative for me. Next year I’m going to lose the neutral ground and force students to take an agree/disagree stand on things. I’m going to break down the “effective teacher” question (which is stupid-vague in hindsight) into specific probes: “The openers were useful for me,” “the classwork was useful for me,” etc.

The free response questions were the most valuable so I may tack on the prompt, “Tell future students how they can be successful in this class.” Many of these suggestions were courtesy Robert-From-The-Comments, who occasionally drops by my classroom to toss me New Teacher Project advice for $


  1. The similarly themed adventures from blogroll-buddy Todd Seal and alma-mater-educator Coach Brown.
  2. Zeldman: “‘Maybe’ is one option too many.”
  3. The Audit I.
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Damn you, Dan! You beat me to this reflection. My evaluations are still sitting in those big manilla envelopes. Now I’ll just look like a big copy cat because this is exactly how I’ve been planning to break out the results.

    Good results here. Now what are you going to do about them? What are your actual plans to address these things?

  2. When I looked at your questions, my first thought was, “ARGHHH get rid of the “3” on the scale!” I now try to include either 4 or 6 options on the scale, forces an opinion/thought. Glad I kept reading. I too like the open ended questions, I find those the most valuable.

    Now to go read more about basketball…

  3. —oops, nice results by the way!

    I’m thinking of asking survey questions at the beginning of the year next year and then same survey at the end (with more questions), to compare. Anyone thoughts on this?

  4. Dan, those are outstanding results. Yes, you have some students that write disappointing things, but you have to remember that some of them are: bitter, bitter, vengeful, or they just read the question wrong. Make sure and CELEBRATE the job well done and don’t DWELL, man.

    I agree–I’d get rid of the 1 – 5. Make them commit instead of their usual millennial malaise.

    I might start out with a survey at the beginning. . sounds good.

    On my evaluations I received the following:

    What would you like to see next year (note, these are college students and three separate answers)

    1. Jon Stewart
    2. ROBOTS
    3. More nudity (the student put “more” as if I had ANY nudity of which I didn’t).

  5. Way to go for having the stones to offer this to your kids. It’s too easy to brush the negative stuff off as “ah, they’re just kids anyway, what do they know?” Instead, you’re able to now address it up front and take a good look at why they may feel a certain way about some part of your teaching.

    I have to say, though, that these are awesome scores for subjects as difficult as algebra and geometry. You had upwards of 90% of your kids either agree or strongly agree that you are a good teacher and that you are committed to their subject mastery. These kids will only buy into you as much as you’re willing to buy into them.

    Also, you correctly identified those 1 or 2 negative marks as “outliers”. You probably already know who these kids are, but these are the ones that either didn’t mesh well with your personality (happens to all of us), or just have some internal need to be negative about everything in their lives. Just a guess.

  6. Impressive results. And nice of you to disclose that your first two years weren’t as good.

    Why no clock? And what’s the basketball about?

    On the not using the textbook thing: I know that the textbooks tend to be at a majority of our students’ frustration level, and I didn’t use them much either this year. Still, it just might be worth the time and effort to carefully teach the use of a textbook as a skill in its own right.

  7. Dan,

    Data is my new best friend. Not crazy, off-the-walls-I need you to translate data, but exactly what you did. Every teacher should conduct this type of survey at least once a year, and I would even advocate for more than that. Often, we forget that the students play such an integral role in how we shape our curriculum and our class design. Surveys like yours go a long way to getting inside of the learning processes of the students.

    If I were you, anything new you throw into the class next year: a new unit, a new method, or even a new concept, give them a quick survey like the one you did. Just like your assessment method, you will find immediate data to begin to reflect on.

    I am passing this along to teachers as I meet with them this summer.

  8. Dan, wonderful results. Congratulations.

    Just some feeback: maybe the students could make their own goals at the start of the year. At the end of the year, in addition to the wonderful questions you ask them above, maybe they could state what you/the class contributed towards whatever extent of their goals that they have achieved. b) how could it have been better?

    This way the kids will have a framework within which to evaluate you and themselves.

    Otherwise, and I know this coz I’ve been guilty of this, on the last day you’re either biased in favour or against a teacher. rarely accurate.

    Either way though, you see seem to have scored big. All the best!


  9. My favorite evaluator comment ever: “I hated this teacher. Everyone hated this teacher. He thinks he’s funny and he’s not. He gets butt-hurt about everything. But I gotta admit I learned a lot. He taught me like everything.”

    I keep it in a frame.

  10. dan – thanks for sharing your results. maybe since i teach english it makes for reflective writing on the year more appropriate to the course content; i’ve done something like this about twice per year with all of my classes, since year one.

    wanted to add on to Vivek’s idea – i have always asked students to write about their own participation and effort in my class at the beginning of the reflections sheet, and then only after that do i have the questions asking them to reflect on how i’ve done as a teacher. i like to think it helps put those “outliers” into a better context. (but then again – very few of my feedback forms have involved numbers – i prefer thought out comments.)

    i always tell students they can sign it, or choose to leave it anonymous, as they like, but that i won’t touch it until after the marks are handed in. kids aren’t stupid – they know that if it’s not typed out, a teacher can tell which student’s handwriting it is after a year of marking journals and tests and essays.

    hope that everyone reading dan’s post makes sure to spread the word about how much these reflections can help! (IF you make sure to keep it in context and not blow it out of proportion.)

  11. Dan,
    Congratulations on really caring about your kids and sharing your results.
    Just curious – do you have finals? I always tell my kids that if I taught them, my final exam would be to have them reflect on what they learned, what helped them to learn best and what suggestions they would have for next year.

  12. TMAO, that’s funny. I guess having 7th graders appreciate your sense of humor just might be a dubious compliment in any case :)

  13. Is there an effective way to get this kind of feedback all year long, so you can adapt and reflect as it happens, rather than having to wait until next year to make changes?

  14. Tony–I heard about an assessment that might work to get the immediate feedback you mentioned. Ask the question–have kids write their response on a note card–turn it in. You have your feedback–if using as assessment they’d have to put their names on it.

  15. Tony,

    If you are keeping a class blog, you can create a quick survey using SurveyMonkey or BlogFlux. The answers are logged for you anonymously. The surveys are stored for you at the site.

    If not, I like Nancy’s idea of just a quick note-card. It solves the problem of having to really prepare something advanced.

    We use something through our Website provider that lets us create surveys. It logs the results and provides us with the ability to download an excel sheet with all of the results.

  16. I’d say not only ditch the neutral, but also put the ratings labels on top of the columns, rather than a sentence at the beginning. It just makes it easier to make sure that they are really answering in the right direction. (Maybe your negatives weren’t?!)

  17. Brian Miller

    July 9, 2007 - 9:56 am -

    Congratulations on getting back such excellent evaluations. That is cause for celebration!!!
    I would like to comment on people’s comments about the “outliers”. A response or two has said that they are “bitter” or angry, vengeful teens. Does that mean the students that put excellent responses are apple polishers? These two or three students had a gripe and it should be taken just as seriously as those that gave you high marks. There is an old saying about life. It goes something like “20% of people will like you, 20% of people will hate you, 60% don’t care about you either way one bit”.
    Here is a true story. When I was doing the second of several pre-student teaching experiences during my juinor year of college, I was assaigned to a 5th grade classroom. My cooperating/mentor teacher called me up to welcome me ahead of time to her class and introduce herself. She told me “oh, and you don’t need to wear a tie”. Of course, being the 20 year old college guy that I was, I said, “woo-hoo!”. So, I never wore a tie. Not once. Well, the end of the year comes along and I am handed my evaluation. Under “professionalism” I get an unsatisfactory. The comments said, “never once wore a tie! Even though I told him he didn’t have to, I thought he would have taken a cue from the other male teachers”. Me and my college buddies said she was a bitch, and an angry bitter person who is probably beaten by her husband. My first job out of college I again, never wore a tie. My evaluation under the “professionalism” catogory states “excellent”. Under comments the principal rights, “always on time for work, works well with admin and staff”. So who is right?