Do your professors make the grade?

Since the early years of a student’s education, most report cards stare back into three faces: the teacher who gives the grade, the student who receives the grade and then, most likely, the parent, sometimes angry, sometimes proud.

What if it were possible to publish teacher report cards, not for just three people to see, but for millions of people to see? It is.

RateMyProfessors.com is a Web site that allows students to give professors a scorecard, similar to the class evaluations administered at the end of each semester, but with one difference – they are public.

Currently 864 University of Vermont professors are ranked by students, according to the site. The rating key ranges from Good Quality to Poor Quality, including a chili pepper for the additional “hotness” rating.

All ratings accumulate to create the professor’s scorecard, according to the site.

Is the professor really as spicy as his or her chili pepper ranking? There is also a feature to upload a professor’s photo to the site.

“Camera phones in the classroom have a new meaning,” Patrick Nagle, president of RateMyProfessors, said in a press release about the photo feature.

“I’ve looked at [RateMyProfessors] a couple of times, but I don’t base my classes on it,” freshman Gianna Vannelli said.

Some, however, do use the site to choose classes.

“I looked at it for my Spanish 101 class. There were two professors, and I heard one was easier than the other,” sophomore Maria White said.

Paul Martin, a Professor of English at UVM, said he views alternative methods to picking classes as a sounder source of accurate information.

“My sense is that the best way a student here can judge as to whether a class is worth taking is to talk to friends and fellow majors who have taken that class before,”ÊMartin said.

“It’s been a couple of years since I looked at my [student reviews], but my general impressions of the site were that the categories they chose to cover, such as how easy a class was or how ‘hot’ the professor is, aren’t really categories that will be of much help to the prospective student,” Martin said.Ê

UVM Professor of history Abigail McGowan questions the accuracy of the site.

“Essentially, my objection to the website is that it takes what should be a really useful tool-students sharing their responses to different professors-and makes it totally unreliable,” McGowan said

“I’d be surprised if there were any profs here who don’t know about the Web site.Ê My guess, too, is that all of us have looked at least once or twice at our own ratings (and those of our colleagues),” Martin said.

When asked if she had heard of the site or was ever reviewed, lecturer in English Elaine Harrington said, “I was once, a long time ago,” unaware if she has been reviewed since.

“No, I’ve never looked up my ratings – terrifies me to think about it!” Political Science Professor Bob Taylor said. “I don’t really know if students look at it or not.”

There is no consensus about the site’s usefulness among professors, though some concede it holds promise.

“I much prefer to rely on the evaluations that we conduct in class at the end of each term to get a sense of what students think,” McGowan said.

Yet, Martin believs otherwise.

“The questions about how accessible or fair that respondent considers the prof is more important, but the ratings I saw for me and others weren’t numerous enough to give a student a good sense of the professor,” Martin said.