Potential Categories to Address in a Chair or Dean's Letter of Assessment for Promotion and Tenure

This page provides a suggested list of teaching-assessment categories that may be included in a Chair/Dean's letter of assessment for promotion and tenure based on myriad sources of evidence of teaching effectiveness. In writing the letter of assessment, one should keep in mind the following from the 1987 Policy for Evaluation of Teaching (for Advancement and Promotion): “The essential question in the evaluation of teaching is whether the candidate contributes in an effective, creative, and appropriate way to the teaching mission of the department.” The purpose of this letter is to provide a fair assessment of the candidate’s teaching, not to “sell” the teaching credentials of the candidate. No matter the strength of the teaching record, deans and chairs should provide context in the letter of assessment that will further help the reviewers understand the candidate’s record.

Potential categories of teaching assessment are described below and then followed by example excerpts of a letter submitted for a merit and promotion case. It is highly recommended that different types of teaching assessments, from quantitative to qualitative evaluations, are included in a letter of assessment to ensure that the review committee is best able to assess the faculty’s teaching record.
 
In a letter of assessment for promotion and tenure, one should endeavor to address the following:
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Contextualized Discussion of Quantitative Teaching Evaluation Results

Briefly summarize the candidate’s quantitative teaching evaluations. Address how the candidate’s evaluations fall in terms of the mean of all of the department’s teaching evaluations. Where possible, it is suggested that you provide as much context as possible. For courses in which instructors receive below-average evaluations from their students, you could, for example, discuss the diversity / composition of the students in the course, or provide historical means of the student evaluations for this course by previous instructors, illustrating the exceptional challenges of teaching this particular course.

Example:

“Professor Z’s teaching evaluation scores are consistently equal to the departmental average for upper-division seminars: in courses with a response rate of 80% or above, the average student rating is 5.8, with less than 1% of students rating Professor Z below a 5.“

Analysis of Narrative Comments from Student Evaluations, including representative quotations, both positive and critical

Briefly describe the overall consensus among students when they are asked to evaluate the candidate’s teaching. Here, you can give verbatim quotes from students, including both positive and negative comments. Do students perceive the candidate to be an effective teacher? Are students satisfied with the manner in which the course was taught? Do students feel that the learning objectives of the course were met? Did students feel that they were engaged in the course material? Overall, these evaluations should focus on the effectiveness of the teaching, and not the knowledge of the professor.

Example:

“Professor Z’s classroom skills are evidenced by student comments in teaching evaluations. Examples of comments on Z’s teaching include:
-I was dreading taking a ___ course, but after this class, I decided to major in ___
-the best I’ve ever met…hands down best teacher I’ve had in 10 years of university education
-overall amazing…she is the best teacher I have ever had
-absolutely love it
-loves to teach, humble, always helpful
-extremely clear … amazing professor
-awesome, clear
-highly recommended
-just an amazing lecturer
-great teacher … best instructor to date
-inspiring and an excellent role model
-the professor is GREAT
Critical student comments primarily concerned the difficulty of the material or the homework. None of the critical comments reflected on the pedagogy or teaching effectiveness, only the workload.”

Report(s) of Class Observation

If applicable, summarize the evaluations of the candidate’s colleagues who performed in-class observations.

Example:

“Professor Z is, by all accounts, an excellent teacher, as confirmed by the classroom observations of Professor A, who calls out Z’s ability to explain key concepts in a broad variety of ways, to hold the attention of the class throughout a 90-minute session, to use both the board and slides effectively, and to engage a large class in discussion. Prof. A’s peer observation report is included in the case materials; conversations with A confirm that the report is A’s candid opinion: A was impressed, and commented in particular on Z’s rapport with the class, Z’s sensitivity to the mood in the room and whether students were following the presentation, Z’s facility in blending derivations on the board with projected computer simulations to illustrate the mathematics, and Z’s ability to construct alternative explanations and illustrations of difficult concepts when students did not follow the first exposition.”

Analysis of Instructional Materials, including syllabi, handouts, course websites, etc.

Briefly analyze the quality and creativity of the instructional materials designed by the candidate. Contributions to course development and curriculum development can also be addressed. Here, you can also briefly summarize the teaching load (specific courses, enrollment, etc.) of the candidate.

Example:

”I reviewed Professor Z’s syllabus, assignments, exams, lecture notes, and other materials for Class Q (a prerequisite for many majors), R (a seminar course developed), S (a graduate course developed for the revised MA program, which Z has spearheaded), and T (a topics course in research area). They are mostly of a very high quality and clearly the result of considerable thought and effort.”
“Z’s lectures in S were webcast in fall, 2013.  I watched portions of several of Z’s recorded lectures for S—a course I have taught many times. Z’s lectures are clear, correct, engaging, interactive, and well paced. As a relatively new professor, Z’s organization of class activities can be more purposeful and boardwork could be more legible. Despite these areas for improvement, Z does an excellent job keeping the students involved in discussion, even in large (300+ student) lectures. Z is particularly good at keeping the students thinking during the lecture and of inviting questions and comments. Z responds generously and sensitively to questions, and is tuned in well to the mood of the class.”

Analysis of Instructional Innovation(s), if any

Highlight particularly outstanding initiatives in teaching strategies. For example, the use of active learning strategies, flipped classrooms, technology integration, novel assessment techniques, inquiry-based learning or unique evaluation strategies. Include specific examples of how the candidate strived to ensure students were engaged in the course material and evidence of the candidate’s self-reflection and evaluation (and subsequent improvement) of their teaching over the course’s duration.

Example:

“In particular, Z devoted an enormous amount of time to developing online materials for Q over the last five years that increase student engagement with course materials and opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. The materials required designing and creating a substantial amount of supporting technology, representing a substantial effort to build and maintain. Not only are those online materials superb, they are having an impact on pedagogy elsewhere: a Google search shows over 1,200 links to those materials, of which more than half are from other countries. I am quite impressed with the pedagogy, novelty, and functionality. I have a few minor suggestions about the presentation of specific content (I.e., use of pre-completed static slides vs. active writing on a white board), which I will discuss with Z, but those are a matter of preference, not of correctness.
The materials for course R and S are extremely polished. Notably, Z assigned a term project in an introductory course, harnessing the power of inquiry-based learning. I reviewed a handful of the term projects, which were mostly ambitious and impressive. The materials for course T are also well organized and interesting, and demand a high level of performance from the students.“

Discussion of Mentorship Record more broadly, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels

Briefly evaluate the candidate’s efforts in mentoring their undergraduate and graduate students, as well as Graduate Student Instructors. Discuss the extent of the candidate’s activities and engagement in mentoring their students and GSIs. Include highlights from any evaluations or interviews with undergraduate and graduate students, and GSIs here.     

Example:

“Z stands out as an exemplary advisor to graduate students. In addition to serving as a member of sixteen exam committees and more than a dozen MA and PhD committees, Z advised three PhD recipients (all of whom got jobs in top-ten departments), co-advised two others, and is currently advising three more. Z advised two MA recipients who went to jobs in industry, co-advised another who went to a job in government, and advised one who changed advisors. Z supervised three undergraduate honors theses and two undergraduate internships during the review period.”

Suggested Supplementary Materials to Obtain Before Writing the Letter

-Qualitative student evaluation data
-Quantitative student evaluation data
-Accounts of classroom observations by the Chair, Dean, or faculty colleagues
-Written evaluations / letters of assessment by GSIs, graduate students and former graduate students
-Course syllabi
-Course handouts
-Course websites and materials within
-Candidate’s statement of teaching philosophy and CV-Self-evaluation of candidate’s teaching