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Women's Studies in Communication

Volume 30. Number 1. Spring 2007

The Influence of Student Sex and Instructor Sex on
Student Ratings of Instructors: Results from a College of
Communication
Sandi W. Smith
Michigan State University
Jina H. Yoo
University of Missouri St. Louis
A. Celeste Farr
North Carolina State University
Charles T. Salmon
Michigan State University
Vernon D. Miller
Michigan State University
It is important to determine if student ratings of instructors reflect systematic bias due
to sex of instructor. We posed research questions as to whether male and female students
would rate male or female instructors more highly on five dimensions of student rating
forms, one of which was instructor interaction. Results indicated that male and female
students rated female instructors more highly on all five dimensions. The effect sizes of
these results were extremely small, but significant due to the large sample size (almost
12,000). These findings suggest that administrators should not assume one sex to
provide better or poorer instruction, and they should reward instructors on the basis of
individual course performance rather than according to instructor sex. Keywords:
teaching evaluations, sex differences.

Otudent ratitigs of instructors' teaching skill are put to importatit uses in
higher education. Administrators use these ratings as feedback mechanistns so that instructors can make teaching improvements. Evaluations
Sandi W, Smith (Ph.D,, University of Southern California) is Professor in the Department of Communication at Michigan State University; Jina H, Yoo (Ph,D,, Michigan
State University) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the
University of Missouri St, Louis; A, Celeste Farr (Ph,D., Michigan State University) is
Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at North Carolina State
University; Charles T. Salmon (Ph.D,, University of Minnesota) is Dean of the College
of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University); and Vernon D,
Miller (Ph.D,, University of Texas) is Associate Professor in the Departments of Communication and Management, Michigan State University, A previous version of this paper was
presented at the National Communication Association Conference in Miami in 2003,

Sandi Smith, et al, 65

also constitute the basis of personnel decisions in staffing courses, raises
for faculty, and for tenure and promotion decisions. In addition, accreditation and government bodies use instructor rating instruments to assess
institutional accountability. As such, it is vital that they reflect unbiased
ratings of instructors by students. In and of themselves, sex differences in
ratings do not reflect bias in that, if differences do exist, one sex might
actually be better teachers and thus be ranked more highly. However, one
area in which potential bias has been investigated is that of sex differences
in the ratings that male and female instructors receive from male and
female students, A complicated set of findings emerged in this regard. The
goal of this research is to assess whether or not sex differences in
instructor ratings were present over two semesters of student ratings for
three departments in a College of Communication and, if so, whether they
were due to sex differences in student raters.
In order to achieve this goal, we consider the importance of teaching
evaluations. We review previous findings and pose research questions
about differential ratings of male and female instructors by male and
female students. Finally, we present tests that answer these questions and
discuss the findings.

Importance of Student Evaluations
A large majority of colleges and universities use student teaching
evaluations of instructors. The widespread use of them began in the 1960s,
and by the late 1970s department heads ranked student evaluations as one
of the top three sources of information on teaching effectiveness (Centra,
1993), Student evaluations of instructor teaching effectiveness have many
uses by different constituents of higher education. First, faculty members
themselves can use the results as a feedback mechanism in order to
improve their teaching skill and effectiveness (Centra, 1993; Neumann,
2000; Smith, Medendorp, Ranck, Morrison, & Kopfman, 1994), University administrators and tenure and promotion committees regularly use
these ratings to make salary, tenure, and promotion decisions for faculty
members and as the basis of how to staff courses (Arreola, 1995; Neumann, 2000; Park, 1996), Students use the ratings, when they are made
public, to make course and section selection decisions (Feldman, 1993;
Neumann, 1994), Finally, administrators, disciplinary oversight bodies,
state and federal agencies, and the general public use the ratings to
determine accountability and accreditation issues (Arreola, 1995;
Braskamp & Ory, 1994; Williams & Ceci, 1997), It is vital that informa-

66 Women's Studies in Communication

tion used for such important and varied purposes is a fair representation of
teaching skill and effectiveness. Two areas in which there have been
differences in ratings of teaching effectiveness and skill are sex of instructor and sex of students who rate the female and male instructors.

Sex Differences in Student Evaluations
A selective overview of previous research illustrates the increasing
sophistication of investigations and the mixed findings on evaluations of
male and female instructors. For instance, students perceive male instructors as more competent instructors (Lombardo & Tocci, 1979) and more
highly educated than female instructors (Miller & Chamberlin, 2000),
Fandt and Stevens (1991) find that male and female business students
generally evaluate male instructors higher than female instructors in terms
of style of organization, enthusiasm, credibility, and effectiveness in
business classes, Male instructors perceive that students refer to them by
honorific titles more often than female instructors (Heckert et al,, 1999),
and female instructors at a military college report receiving less respect
than their male counterparts (Siskind & Kearns, 1997), In contrast, Sinclair and Kunda (2000) find that students rank female instructors as more
competent after providing praise than male instructors, but the reverse is
true after females give criticism to students,
Feldman's (1992, 1993) investigations best evidence the microcosm of
research on ratings per sex of the instructor. He reports that (a) males
receive higher overall instructor ratings, especially in experimental laboratory settings (1992) and (b) meta-analysis of student ratings of actual
instructors favor women, yet the average correlation of r = ,02 was so
small as to "be substantively negligible even though it is statistically
significant based on combining individual probabilities" (1993, p, 177),
These studies suggest that generalizations about ratings due to the sex of
the instructor be viewed cautiously, with greater effort to assess instructor
ratings across a variety of settings where gender stereotypes are less of
a factor,
A second set of investigations addresses whether male and female
students rank male or female instructors more highly than the other. As
noted earlier, a number of studies (e,g,, Fandt & Stevens, 1991; Feldman,
1992) indicate that both male and female students rank male instructors
more highly than female instructors, Basow and Silberg (1987) similarly
report male students rating male professors higher on all six dimensions of
a rating instrument (i,e,, scholarship, organization/clarity, instructor-group

Sandi Smith, et al, 67

interaction, instructor-individual student interaction, dynamism/enthusiasm, and overall teaching ability). However, although female students rate
female professors higher on three dimensions, male students rate female
instructors lower on four dimensions, reinforcing an established interaction pattern of "consistently less favorable ratings of female professors
given by male students" (p, 311) as found in earlier research (Basow, 1995),
Other studies reveal a same-sex bias in instructor ratings. While reporting that female students tend to rate introductory Sociology instructors
more highly than males, Ferber and Huber (1975) reveal that male students' ratings favor male instructors and female students' ratings favor
female instructors. Das and Das (2001) find that male business students
were more likely than females to choose a male as their best professor,
while female business students were more likely than males to choose a
female as their best professor. Variations in the pattern occur when male
students ranked male instructors more highly, but female students rank
both male and female instructors equally (Kaschak, 1978; Lombardo &
Toci, 1979), In other studies, female students rank female instructors more
highly, and male students rank male and female instructors equally
(Bachen, McLoughlin, & Garcia, 1999; Centra & Gaubatz, 2000),
In brief, three themes emerge across investigations of instructor ratings
by instructor sex or by instructor sex interacting with student sex. First,
these studies call for replication of the reported findings, commonly citing
unique conditions of the sample, rating instrument issues, marginally
significant findings, and tninute effect sizes. Second, the results of a
number of studies indicate the importance of measuring multiple dimensions of instructor rating (Basow & Silberg, 1987; Centra & Gaubatz,
2000; Feldman, 1992, 1993), The testing of multiple dimensions reveals
variation in specific aspects of perceived instructional ability. Third, the
studies indicate the importance of context as contributing to perceptions of
instructional effectiveness. Enlarging or narrowing the sample, the types
of courses, and student orientations may significantly influence research
findings.

Common Dimensions of Teaching Evaluations and
Research Questions
Common dimensions of teaching evaluations are present across many
studies. Centra (1993) identifies six common categories found across types

68 Women's Studies in Communication

of teaching evaluations. They are: clarity and communication skill, student
learning and self-ratings of progress, student-instructor interaction, work
load and course difficulty, grading and examinations, and course organization. The dimensions roughly parallel those of the evaluations forms
used in this study,
Feldman's (1993) meta-analysis highlights the importance of assessing
rating differences for male and female instructors across dimensions of
teaching effectiveness. The mixed pattern offindingswith higher rankings
for female instructors on certain dimensions and males on others emphasizes the importance of assessing variability due to perceived performance
on specific instructional elements. Thus, separate research questions as to
whether male or female instructors will receive significantly higher ratings
on different dimensions of a teaching evaluation instrument are posed.
Further, questions are offered as to whether male and female students will
rank male professors or female professors more highly,
RQl: Will male or female instructors receive higher ratings
on the instructor involvement dimension of teaching evaluations?
RQ2: Will male or female students rate male or female
instructors significantly more highly on instructor involvement?
RQ3: Will male or female instructors receive higher ratings
on the student interest dimension of teaching evaluations?
RQ4: Will male or female students rate male or female
instructors significantly more highly on student interest?
RQ5: Will male or female instructors receive higher ratings
on the student-instructor interaction dimension of teaching evaluations?
RQ6: Will male or female students rate male or female
instructors significantly more highly on student-instructor interaction?
RQ7: Will male or female instructors receive higher ratings
on the course demands dimension of teaching evaluations?
RQ8: Will male or female students rate male or female
instructors significantly more highly on course demands?
RQ9: Will male or female instructors receive higher ratings
on the course organization dimension of teaching evaluations?
RQIO: Will male or female students rate male or female
instructors significantly more highly on course organization?

Sandi Smith, et al, 69

One additional question that can be posed is whether male or female
students tend to rate instructors significantly more highly on overall course
evaluations. Therefore, our last research question is:
RQll: Do male or female students tend to rate instructors
significantly more highly on overall course evaluations?

Method
Procedures and Materials
The data for this study were instructors' ratings over two semesters for
three departments in a College of Communication, Included in the category "instructors" are faculty and teaching assistants who both teach
free-standing sections and assist in other sections. Those departments
included Advertising, Communication, and Telecommunication, The total
number of evaluations was 11,913 with Advertising comprising 40,2%,
Communication 40,1%, and Telecommunication 19.7% of the total, Male
instructor ratings comprised 50,1% of the sample, and 49,9% of the ratings
were for female instructors, Male students provided 38,6% of the instructor ratings, while 59,7% were from female students, and 1,7% of student
sex data were missing. Students completed these evaluations at the end of
their respective courses as a part of the regular course instruction. No extra
credit was received by students.
The student instructional rating (SIRS) form examines five dimensions
of instruction: instructor involvement, student interest, student-instructor
interaction, course demands, and course organization. Each dimension is
assessed by four Likert-type indicators,' A single, global score based on
confirmatory factor analyses measured the overall course evaluation.
Information on factor loadings and indicators of fit are available from the
first author. All items are scored on a 1 to 5 scale with 1 meaning
"Superior" and 5 meaning "Inferior," Thus, lower scores on the SIRS are
desirable.

Results
Prior to testing the research questions, confirmatory factor analyses
(CFA) (Hunter & Gerbing, 1982) tested the validity of the factor structure
of the SIRS items and to assess the reliability of the measures. The result

70 Women's Studies in Communication

of CFA suggested all items of the SIRS should be retained. Five different
factors clustered together as predicted: instructor involvement, student
interest, student-instructor interaction, course demand, and course organization. The alpha reliabilities were ,91, ,86, ,92, ,90, and ,92, respectively,
A second-order CFA was also computed using scores on each of the five
factors for purposes of creating an overall course evaluation score. The
second-order CFA indicated that the five factors formed a factor that was
internally consistent, that the deviations between the predicted and observed matrix were not significant at the p = ,05 level, and that the
second-order scale had an alpha reliability of ,93,
Prior to testing our research questions, we wanted to determine if class
size had an effect on student ratings in our sample and, if so, whether
larger classes were associated with instructors of one sex or the other.
Previous research found that as class size goes up, ratings were lower. We
found a significant negative relationship between class size and sex of
instructor (r = -,07, p < .001) which indicates that as class size
increases, males are more likely to be instructors than females. We also
found significant relationships between class size and the instructor involvement, student interest, student-instructor interaction, and course demands scales (r's = .03, ,07, ,03, and ,04, respectively, all with p <,001),
For this reason, class size was entered as a covariate in all subsequent
analyses although the r's are modest.
Research Questions
This study attempted to determine whether sex of students and sex of
instructors had an influence on SIRS ratings in this sample. Thefirsttwo
questions probed whether male or female students rated male or female
instructors lower in instructor involvement (RQl and RQ2), Instructor
involvement (and all subsequent analyses) ran a sex-of-instructor (male
instructor vs, female instructor) and sex-of-student (male student vs,
female student) between-subjects factorial analysis of variance with class
size entered as a covariate, A main effect was found for instructor sex
where both male and female students rated female instructors significantly
higher than male instructors (F (1, 11456) = 235,99, p < ,001, eta^ =
.02), See Table 1 for all means of instructor sex on the dependent
variables. The main effect for sex of student on instructor involvement
revealed that female students rated instructors significantly higher than
male students (F (1, 11456) = 32,37, p < ,001, eta^ = ,01) on instructor
involvement. Table 2 reports all means of student sex on the dependent

Sandi Smith, et al. 71

Table 1
Mean Scores and Standard Deviations for SIRS: Instructors'
Sex
Male
Instructors

Female
Instructors

M

SD

M

SD

F value

Instructor Involvement
Student Interest
Student-Instructor Interaction
Course Demands
Course Organization

2,03
2.28
2.20
2,35
2,24

,86
,83
,91
,87
,93

1,78
2,19
1,98
2,22
2,01

,74
,76
,84
,80
,81

236,00**
21,92**
171,78**
57,59*
181,05**

Total Scale

2,22

,78

2,03

,68

146,90**

*p < ,05
**p < ,01

variables. There was no significant interaction effect, nor was there an
effect for class size.
The third and fourth research questions concerned whether male or
female students would rate male or female instructors lower in terms of
student interest in the course (RQ3 and RQ4), Scores on student interest
in the course were significantly higher when female instructors taught the
course than when male instructors did (F (1, 11482) = 21,92, p < ,001,
eta^ = ,01), Also, the sex of students had a significant main effect on
student interest in that female students rated their instructors significantly
higher than male students (F (I, 11482) = 41,58, p < ,001, eta^ = ,01) on
student interest. No significant interaction effect was detected, nor was
there an effect for class size,
Male and female student ratings of female and male instructors on
student and instructor interaction were the focus of RQ5 and RQ6, Both
male and female students rated female instructors significantly more
highly on instructor interaction than male instructors (F (1, 11407) =

72 Women's Studies in Communication

Table 2
Mean Scores and Standard Deviations for SIRS: Students'
Sex
Male
Students

Female
Students

M

SD

M

SD

F value

Instructor Involvement
Student Interest
Student-Instructor Interaction
Course Demand
Course Organization

1,97
2,30
2,15
2,34
2,19

,81
,82
,88
,83
,87

1,86
2,19
2,05
2,26
2,08

,80
,78
,87
,84
,88

32,37**
41,58**
25,67**
15,49**
28,56**

Total Scale

2,19

,74

2,08

,73

38,95**

**p < ,01

171,78, p < ,001, eta^ = ,02), Additionally, female students rated their
instructors significantly higher than male students on instructor interaction
(F (1, 11407) = 25,67, p < ,001, eta^ = ,01), No significant interaction
effect was found,
RQ7 and RQ8 were asked to determine whether male or female
students would rate female or male instructors lower on the appropriateness of course demands. Female instructors had significantly higher scores
on appropriateness of course demands compared to male instructors (F (1,
11263) = 57,59, p < ,001, eta^ = ,01), In addition, female students rated
their instructors significantly higher than male students on appropriateness
of course demands (F (1, 11263) = 15,49, p < ,001, eta^ = ,01), No
significant interaction effect was found.
Consistent findings were obtained for RQ9 and RQIO, which asked
whether male or female students would rate female or male instructors
lower in terms of course organization. Both male and female students
indicated that female instructors had significantly better course organization than male instructors did (F (1, 11352) = 181,05, p < ,001, eta^ =

Sandi Smith, et al, 73

,02), Consistent with previousfindings,female students rated their instructors significantly higher than male students (F (1, 11352) = 28,56, p <
,001, eta^ = ,01) on course organization.
In order to test for an overall instructor rating score based on results of
a second-order confirmatory factor analysis, we conducted an analysis of
variance comparable to the ones run on each subscale to answer RQ11,
First, we found a main effect for instructor sex as both male and female
students rated their female instructors significantly more highly than male
instructors (F (1, 10955) = 146,90, p < ,001, eta^ = ,01) on the overall
evaluation. The main effect for sex of student on instructor's overall
course evaluations revealed that female students rated instructors, regardless of sex of instructors, significantly more highly than male students (F
(1, 10955) = 38,95, p < ,001, eto^ = ,01), No significant interaction effect
was found.

Discussion
The primary goal of this research was to assess whether or not sex
differences in five dimensions of instructor ratings were found over two
semesters of student ratings for three departments in a College of Communication and, if so, whether they were due to sex differences in student
raters. Results indicated that female instructor ratings were significantly
higher across all five dimensions of the SIRS rating forms used at the
university where the research took place. The dimension of particular
interest for communication scholars and instructors, student-instructor
interaction, was consistent with these findings. As such, student raters
gave better scores to female instructors on items concerning encouragement to students to express opinions, instructor receptiveness to new ideas
and others' viewpoints, student opportunity to ask questions, and stimulation of class discussion.
The results on the overall evaluation of instructor effectiveness derived
from a second-order factor analysis compared closely with those found by
Feldman (1993), The mean of the total score for female faculty was 2,04
on afive-pointscale, while the mean for male faculty was 2,21, with lower
scores reflecting higher ratings. The average association between instructor sex and the total score here was r = —,11, with the result favoring
female instructors.
An important aspect of these findings concerns a shift in student
satisfaction with female instructors over the last 30 years (Basow, 2000;

74 Women's Studies in Communication

Miller & Chamheriin, 2000; Park, 1996). In this sample, male and female
students rated female instructors more highly across all five dimensions of
the rating scales. For example, female students had a mean of 2.09 on the
overall instructional score, while male students had a mean of 2.18 on that
scale. They hoth rated females more highly, hut female students rated
female instructors 2.01 while male students rated female instructors 2.09.
Male instructors received ratings of 2.17 from female students and 2.26
from male students. This pattern held across all of the dimensions of the
rating scale.
All differences, however, were quite small, despite the fact that they
were statistically significant, fn most cases they did not account for even
one per cent in the variance that could he explained in the student ratings.
The results were significant because of the large sample size of almost
12,000 participants, and caution should he used when citing these findings.
What conclusions can be drawn from this study? First, it is evident that
policy decisions should not be hased on such small differences. The safest
interpretation for administrators is that functionally there is no difference
between male and female instructor ratings as suggested by Feldman
(1993). On a practical level, rewards for instructional excellence across a
college should not favor male or female instructors. There is no basis by
intent or by default practice for rewarding male or female instructors more
highly due to their sex. Rather, pay raises associated with student ratings
of instructors should be determined on a course-hy-course basis.
Second, students' judgments are not hased on sex-related predispositions, and future research should more closely consider pedagogical elements associated with student affect toward a course. By building a
sample ranging across three academic units with distinct cultures and
learning outcomes and a large participant base, the findings here effectively nullify criticisms of prior research based on small samples (i.e., 200
or less) with separate cultures and instructional norms. With this sample,
our study adds to Feldman's (1993) meta-analytic findings by disputing
instructor evaluations as a product of student rater sex, a conclusion based
on small samples since Feldman's study, fn effect, investigators need to
search beyond instructor and student sex for explanations of student
course evaluations.
ft is also important to note that the five dimensions tested in this study
provide single dimensions of instrtjctional prowess (e.g., instructor involvement, student interest, student-instrtjctor interaction), or they can be
combined to form an overall score. As Centra (1993) notes, the structure

Sandi Smith, et al. 75

and nature of some courses are more appropriately measured on certain
dimensions. Student-instructor interaction is crucial in courses with small
enrollments or in seminars and may need to be weighted more heavily at
times. Instructor involvement or organization may be most pertinent in
large lecture contexts where developing and maintaining student interest is
essential to student learning. In other cases, it may he more fitting to use
the sum of ratings on all five dimensions as the summed score may refiect
a broader set of instructional skills or communication abilities (Smith et
al., 1994). The application of specific rating criteria for certain types of
courses will raise a number of theoretical and practical issues, primarily
centering on the rationale for and validation of criteria selection.
The question of whether or not bias exists is a difficult one to answer
here. If the differences really do seem trivial to people who use evaluation
ratings to make personnel decisions, then no harm would seem to be done.
If whichever sex is favored by the ratings does enjoy higher raises and
personnel decisions to a broader degree, then bias might exist. However,
as Feldman (1993) notes, differences in ratings are not in and of themselves reflective of bias. The differences might reflect actual differences in
instructor involvement, student interest, student-instructor interaction,
course demands, and course organization that are reflective of the instructor skill of one sex over the other. Thus, the determination of bias requires
some other more objective measure of teaching skill to compare with the
student rating scores. The extent to which there is a trend away from an
overall sex bias (Ferher & Huber, 1975; Kaschak, 1978), greater acceptance of female instructors (Sinclair & Kunda, 2000), or a reflection of
instructor talent should be the focus of future investigations. Replication
of eariier lab studies (see Feldman, 1992), which provided initial insights
into student bias, may be in order.
In terms of limitations, overall instructor ratings are relatively high. The
score of "2," which is closest to the overall mean of 2.16 on the SIRS
rating forms indicates "Above Average—better than the typical course or
instructor." Although it is difficult to disparage this college's high ratings
of instructors across Departments of Advertising, Communication, and
Telecommunication by both male and female students, the generally high
scores represent a restriction in range and limit the ability to discern
differences in analyses. The likelihood that students participated in more
than one rating of an instructor is also a concern. For instance, instructors
in classes and departments with a substantially larger number of female
students enrolled might be rated more highly due to the high proportion of

76 Women's Studies in Communication

female students in their classes. While the primary source of rating
variance in this study is the instnjctor of record, future investigations
should consider identifying participants and tracking their ratings to
measure the propensity to rate more or less critically at the individual level
rather than measure the propensity of male or female students as a cohort
to inflate or deflate measures.

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Notes
'instructor involvement items rate (I) perceived instructor enthusiasm, (2) interest
in teaching, (3) use of examples and personal experiences, and (4) concern with whether
students learn course material. Student interest items measure (1) interest in learning
course material, (2) general attentiveness in class, (3) the intellectual challenge, and (4)
improvements in competence in the area. Student-instructor interaction items include
(1) encouragement to students to express opinions, (2) instructor receptiveness to new
ideas and others' viewpoints, (3) student opportunity to ask questions, and (4) stimulation of class discussion. Course demand questions include (I) appropriateness of amount
of material, (2) appropriateness of pace, (3) contribution of homework to understanding
of course material relative to the amount of time required, and (4) appropriateness of
difficulty of assigned reading. Finally, course organization asks students to rate (1)
ability to relate constructs in a systematic manner, (2) course organization, (3) ease of
taking notes, and (4) adequacy of outlined direction of course.