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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Online, students grading teachers

Auburn Journal, CA - Jan 6, 2005

Review web site's popularity surging, but not everyone likes idea

By: Ryan Sabalow, Journal Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2005 4:03 AM PST

"Eww. No words can explain how much I hate this class," writes an anonymous Placer High School student of one of his or her teachers.

Another Placer student writes, "I like the man a lot. He is genuine. He is intelligent, and wants us to succeed. He is the best teacher I've ever had."

"(He) is extremely hard. There is only one person in my class getting an A. You learn a lot though," posts a third.

These are but three of the 6.7 million posted teacher ratings on the Web site www.ratemyteachers.com, where students pass judgement on more than 960,000 teachers at 43,000 schools across the United States and Canada.

The teacher-rating site, which gives students the opportunity to rank their teachers on the qualities of easiness, helpfulness and clarity and leave an anonymous comment about their performance, has surged in popularity in recent years, with the site's creator saying it receives more than 1 million hits a month.

However, local school officials are concerned about the site's trustworthiness and the fact that students can lambaste teachers from afar.

"My concern is that it's erroneous and not validated," said Dave Horsey, Placer High principal. "How credible is that?"

The site's creator, Michael Hussey, cofounder of ratemyteachers.com and its sister college rating site ratemyprofessors.com, said the site gives students a chance to have a say in their own education.

"For so long students have never had a voice," Hussey said. "One of the buzzwords in education is accountability. We said, 'well, aren't you forgetting one voice in the concept: The people who are the most affected by them every day?'"

Hussey said he teamed up with his partner John Swapceinski in 2001. At the time he was a student at the University of Maine, and decided students needed the chance to read others' opinions about professors before choosing a class.

But with the site's rise in popularity, some teachers question whether a site-appointed student moderator is the only person monitoring comments given by each teacher.

Hussey said many teachers have grown so concerned by the site that they've lobbied to have it blocked from campus Internet access.

Nearly 550 schools and 180 districts have blocked the site and are listed on ratemyteachers.com's "Wall of Shame."

Blocking the site is misguided, Hussey said.

"If people dig into the site, they see we read every single rating or comment," Hussey said.

At Placer High, Horsey said his school wouldn't be added to the "Wall of Shame" any time soon, but that didn't mean that the public shouldn't take the site with a grain of salt.

"I would take it like any Internet source," Horsey said. "Do your homework."

Some students take the sites very seriously.

A 2003 Placer High graduate, Derek Borow, used ratemyprofessors.com to choose his entire class schedule at Sierra College this semester.

He said many of the teachers are given consistent comments by students, which leaves a clear picture of what a class is really like.

"With multiple persons, you can see how many said good things and how many said bad," Borow, 19, said. "But you have to make judgements. You have to use some logic."

Kevin Bray, interim associate dean of student services at Sierra College, said students like Borow are becoming very common.

"Let's face it," Bray said. "We're all customers here, and they have a right to know what they're buying."

However, he advised would-be surfers not to rely on the sites exclusively to make a decision. He said the sites could provide a very helpful arrow in a student's educational quiver.

And while many teachers may be cringing to hear what students on site have to say about them, some teachers don't mind the negative feedback.

Of the 11 students who ranked Placer High math teacher Mike Schredl's profile, only two gave positive comments.

"If a student feels a certain way, why can't they express it?" Schredl said. "We can always improve."

The Journal's Ryan Sabalow can be reached at ryans@goldcountrymedia.com.

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