Should we collect students’ evaluations before or after the final grade ?

By Emmanuelle Le Nagard, Professor of Marketing and Associate Dean for Pedagogy at ESSEC Business School. Emmanuelle writes Cases studies and teaches Case Study Method for the French Clearing house CCMP. More generally, she favors in her teaching interactive methods, such as case studies, project groups, in partnership with companies. 

In ESSEC process, teaching evaluations from students are collected after the end of the course. They are open to students at the end of the last session of the course and closed before the diffusion of the final grade. This has been decided so that the student’s individual performance of the student does not influence his/her perception of the quality of the course. At the same time, some can argue that the perceived relevance of the exam and its perceived fairness can be an important component of the quality of the course, and should be included in the global evaluation.

But, does it really matter? Are students’ evaluations really different whether they are collected before or after the final grade is disclosed to students? This issue has been investigated in several academic journals devoted to pedagogy, such as, among others, Journal of Higher Education, Journal of Educational Psychology, or the Journal of Marketing Education. An interesting article published in the Marketing Education Review 1 helps us to answer this question. The authors used a sample of 78 undergraduate students enrolled in a personal selling course in a US university. The students were asked to fill out evaluation questionnaires four times during the semester: first, after three weeks, second, one week and a half after the first examination in the course, then during the last session of the course, and finally six weeks after the grade had been given.

The questionnaire was made of 39 items, and four dimensions explaining 60% of the variance were extracted after factor analysis: (1) student satisfaction, (2) role of the instructor, (3) teacher-student relationship, and (4) course quality.

The authors show that all four factors changed over the course of the semester. They increase from period 1 to period 3, peak in time period 3—the official collegewide evaluation—and then slightly decrease the following period (after the disclosure of the final grade).

However, only two out of the four dimensions in period 3 were statistically significantly greater than period 4. On the basis of their results, the authors conclude that the final grade can really impact the reported level of satisfaction from students, and that it is better to evaluate before than after the final grade. They also provide insights about what kind of factors influence students’ evaluations on each of the four factors. Finally, they recommend each instructor to develop a continuous monitoring system that maintains and ensures student anonymity, to track students’ evaluations throughout the course and make immediate changes that can improve the quality of the experience for students.

Of course an interesting further research could investigate if the level of the grade influences the decrease in the satisfaction towards the course.

1 Bharadwaj, S., Futrell, C. M.and Kantak, D. M. “Using Student Evaluations to Improve Learning”, Marketing Teaching Review, 1993