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Any questions you might have about the use of ACE should be directed to the ACE Coordinator at 335-0357 or

ACE (Assessing the Classroom Environment) is an instructor/course evaluation system based on the use of scannable answer sheets. Although ACE utilizes scannable answer sheets, faculty are encouraged to consider additional and/or alternative methods for collecting student feedback. This bulletin explains the ACE system and outlines the policies for administration and score reporting. References are provided at the end of this bulletin and EES and Center for Teaching staff are available to work with departments on developing a comprehensive evaluation system.

Two formats for instructor/course evaluations are typically discussed in the literature: formative and summative. These two formats are distinguished by question type, the point in a course at which feedback is sought, the format of the results, and the intended use of the results. The evaluation options offered by the Exam Service are based upon a distinction between these two formats. The following is a brief discussion of formative and summative evaluation.

Formative Evaluation
Formative evaluations provide feedback to assess the effectiveness of specific instructional practices and identify areas for improvement and development. With an emphasis on improvement, the type of evaluation and the questions used should be diagnostic and specific to the course format and instructor. Formative evaluation should take place throughout a semester, allowing students to provide feedback that impacts the instruction they are receiving. A common complaint from students is that they are rarely asked for input until the end of a course when they will not realize any benefit from instructional changes.

Because formative evaluations are diagnostic and specific to an instructor/course, the instructor controls the format of the evaluation and the method for collecting feedback. Results from a formative evaluation should not be considered during reviews for personnel or administrative decisions unless they are voluntarily submitted to a department chair, review committee, or dean by the instructor being evaluated. Following these guidelines allows instructors to ask probing questions which may elicit mixed responses.

There are numerous methods for collecting evaluative information during a semester without sacrificing significant course time. Some examples of formative evaluations are given in the next section.

Sample Formative Evaluations
The following is a limited list of activities designed to collect diagnostic information from students. They are intended to help instructors develop methods for receiving continual student feedback. Formative evaluations work best when the results are shared and students and instructors work jointly to make changes.


Use the quiz, chat room or email options in ICON.


Form a “quality committee” of students who meet with you on a regular basis to discuss issues related to the course.

3. Use “minute papers” at the end of selected classes. Ask students to respond briefly in writing to a specific course related question. Minute papers should require only a two or three sentence response. This is an excellent technique to get a general view of how a course is progressing and what areas may need further evaluation or emphasis. You might ask students to summarize the main point of a particular class activity, to comment on whether or not a text is easy to understand or helpful, to indicate the one thing that would help them most to understand the material presented in class, or to cite ideas that remain unclear to them at the end of a class.
4. Visit a colleague’s classroom and see how they incorporate different teaching methods, discussion techniques, or technology.
5. Ask a colleague or a staff member from the Center for Teaching to interview your class. This could be done by splitting the class into small groups to discuss course-related issues. Each group then presents a summary of their discussion while the interviewer records responses and asks questions. Contact the Center for Teaching for help in using the Small Group Instructional Development (SGID) method to interview classes.
6. Administer a mid-semester scannable evaluation that allows for written comments. Take time in class to review and discuss the results with students.
7. Review videotaped portions of your class or of classes taught by other instructors.
Videotaping can be arranged through the Center for Teaching.

The University of Iowa Center for Teaching provides excellent resources for instructor and/or course evaluation techniques. Center staff members can be contacted using any of the following:

University of Iowa Center for Teaching
(319) 335-6048

Summative Evaluation
Summative evaluation occurs at the end of instruction and is used to arrive at broad judgments of teaching effectiveness. Results of summative evaluations relate to issues of accountability and are often used to compare an instructors’ performance with a peer group. A summative evaluation should consist of global items intended to provide feedback to administrators and/or peers for use in making administrative decisions (i.e., tenure, promotion, merit, etc.). Global items generalize across course type and instructor level. For example, a statement such as, “I would recommend this course to another student” can be used across many course formats. In a typical summative evaluation, all instructors within a department or college use a standard set of items making it possible to generate normative information. Sample global items are included in the ACE item catalog.

What Research Tells Us About Course Evaluations
There has been a great deal of debate concerning factors that affect students’ evaluation of an instructor or a course. Research studies have produced mixed conclusions. Raoul Arreola, in “Developing a Comprehensive Faculty Evaluation System” (1995), offers the following summary:

“All this research points out that many commonly held beliefs concerning student ratings are, on the whole, myths or misconceptions. Faculty cannot “buy” good ratings by giving easy grades. Students do not generally rate faculty lower in classes taught early in the morning or right after lunch. Teaching a small class does not automatically guarantee high student ratings, nor does teaching a large class automatically guarantee low ratings. However, freshman students do tend to rate faculty more harshly than do sophomores, sophomores tend to rate more harshly than juniors, and so on, with graduate students tending to rate faculty most generously. Also, students in required courses tend to rate their instructors more harshly than students in elective courses. It is interesting to note that most large, required courses tend to be offered early in the curriculum of a college. Thus, most of the large required courses may be offered in the freshman and sophomore years, just the time when students tend to rate their teachers most harshly. It would be easy to conclude from personal experience with such courses that the problem lies with the size of the course when, in fact, the research indicates it is the level (freshman, sophomore, etc.) and the fact that the course is required that are the factors which contribute to generally lower student ratings. The important conclusion to be drawn at this point is the necessity to systematically incorporate these findings into the interpretation of student ratings.”

A more extensive discussion of these issues is provided in the resources listed at the end of this bulletin.

General Guidelines for Scanner-Based Evaluations

1. Student evaluations should be collected in the classroom under class conditions. A minimum of three-fourths of the students should be present.
2. Evaluations should not be collected during the final exam period or be a part of any test or quiz.
3. Administrative directions, provided by either EES or the department/college, should be read to students exactly as printed. This is particularly important for summative evaluations where faculty will be compared to a peer group. All students should hear the same instructions.
4. Students should be provided a confidential mechanism through the department or college for reporting incidences where instructors fail to follow administrative guidelines or a student feels the evaluation process has not been carried out appropriately.
5. Only one set each of instructor and departmental core results will be printed by EES. If additional copies are requested, the information will be provided electronically or standard copy center fees will be charged for additional hard copies.
6. The Exam Service does not store results of course evaluations; each instructor is responsible for maintaining a personal record.
7. Under limited circumstances, EES will rerun the results from a course evaluation, however, a fee will be charged based on the amount of time it takes to recover archived data. Rerun requests are only considered for the current or preceding semester.

Using the ACE System

ACE is designed to obtain formative and/or summative information from a single student questionnaire. The following sections outline the general characteristics of ACE and provides a step-by-step example of an ACE order.

Selecting Items
A. Instructor Selected Items – Formative Evaluation
EES maintains an ACE item pool with approximately 200 items addressing a variety of instructor/course evaluation areas. Each item has been assigned a unique serial number. Up to twenty items can be selected from the pool and printed on the front of ACE answer sheets. The back of ACE answer sheets is reserved for items which an instructor wishes to include that are not in the ACE item pool. There is space on the back of ACE answer sheets for an additional twenty gridded items using either the Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree response scale or a scale created specifically for each item. The back of ACE answer sheets can also be used to ask open-ended questions that require written responses. Instructors are responsible for providing a formatted original for duplication on the back side of ACE answer sheets. The items should be typed on white paper using the format requirements shown in the ACE example.

The results for ACE pool items include the number and percentage of students marking each response option, the median, mean, and variability indices.

B. Department/College Core Items - Summative Evaluation
Departments/colleges wishing to use ACE to collect evaluations for administrative purposes (norms) will be asked to identify a set of items that will make up a Department Core. The core should be comprised of global items that generalize across course type and format. The Department Core will be printed on all instructors’ ACE answer sheets preceded by a statement to students indicating that results will be reported to a department representative for possible use in administrative decisions. A Department Core should be maintained for a reasonable length of time to provide a longitudinal record of student responses. Departments/colleges may choose to use more than one norm group in reporting results. For example, a college might request that courses be grouped based on level (by course number). A minimum of fifty class medians (current or combined semesters) is recommended to provide stable normative information.

Across-course medians for select percentile points are printed on instructor results for each core item. In addition, the department chair or college dean will receive a summary table showing the percentile point median values for each core item. Sample table.

C. Student Core
Student government representatives have developed a core set of items which instructors may choose to have printed on their ACE forms. Results from the Student Core will be made available by UISG to the general student population to be used in the process of course selection. UISG has identified six items that make up the Student Core. In addition to the six pre-selected UISG items, instructors can select up to four items from the ACE pool to be added to the Student Core. The Student Core will always be printed as the last block of items on the back of ACE answer sheets. The six pre-selected UISG items are:

This course requires an appropriate amount of work for the credit earned.
This instructor increased my interest in the course material.
Exams in this course were fair.
The syllabus was an accurate guide to course requirements.
This instructor clearly communicated class material.
Overall this is an excellent course.

The following is an example of the information that will is made available to students.

Course: 22Q:123:001 Course Name: Example
Instructor: J. Sample Total = 29
Enrollment: Fr 2 So 10 Jr 15 Sr 3
Course Credit: GEP 12 Major 15 Elective 3
Expected Grade: A 8 B 12 C 8 D 1 F 0


Question #1   Mean Std Dev
Question #2   Mean Std Dev
Question #3   Mean Std Dev
Question #4   Mean Std Dev
Question #5   Mean Std Dev
Question #6   Mean Std Dev
Optional Question #1   Mean Std Dev
Optional Question #2   Mean Std Dev

Ordering ACE Forms
ACE forms are ordered either by an individual faculty member for use in their own classes or, by a department or college representative who is ordering for all faculty within an identified group. The ordering and mailing procedures are different under these two circumstances and are outlined in the next two sections.

Individual Faculty – Ordering ACE Answer Sheets
When you request information about ACE, you will be mailed an ACE packet that includes a blue envelope, an ACE Header Sheet, a cherry colored address sheet, and a set of directions. When you receive your packet, complete the following steps to order ACE answer sheets:

1. Print your name, course number, department, and campus address on the cherry address sheet. An EES address appears on the opposite side of the cherry sheet which is used to mail forms and results back-and-forth between you and EES.

On the front side of the ACE Header Sheet, complete the areas that are listed below. An explanation of these categories is given on the instruction sheet included with your ACE packet.

A. Instructor Name or Course Title
B. # of Copies
C. # of Classes
D. Course Number and Cross Listed Course Number (if appropriate)
E. Optional Codes - leave blank
F. Optional Questions
G. Type of Evaluation
H. Form #--If you have a form you have used in the past and do not want to make any changes, you can grid the old form number and do not need to fill out anything on the backside of the ACE Header Sheet. If this is the first time you are using a set of items, leave the Form # blank and EES will assign a number.
I. Phone # or E-mail address
J. Due Date

On the back side of the ACE Header Sheet, complete the following areas if you are creating a new form or, modifying a form you have used previously.

A. Print and grid the serial numbers of items from the ACE pool in the order that you would like to have them appear on the ACE answer sheets. If making changes to a previously used form, make sure you erase the original form # on the front of the ACE header sheet since a new number needs to be assigned.
B. Indicate whether or not you want the Student Core printed on your answer sheets.
4. Put the cherry address sheet in the blue envelope with the EES address showing along with your completed ACE Header Sheet and send it through campus mail to EES.
5. Your ACE order will be filled and student answer sheets returned to you along with administration directions.

ACE Header Sheets are used twice during the course evaluation process, once for ordering the answer sheets that students complete, and a second time when the student answer sheets are scanned. The instructor and course information that you grid on the ACE Header Sheet is printed on your results.

Departmental or College Representative – Ordering ACE Answer Sheets
Departments and/or Colleges that require a core set of items (Department Core) to appear on all faculty answer sheets for normative purposes must use “Batch Processing” for ACE. Batch processing requires that a person be designated within the department to order, distribute, collect, and return ACE answer sheets to EES in one batch mailing. The batch mailing includes a blue ACE envelope for each instructor within a designated comparison group who use the same Department Core (form number). Normative information cannot be calculated unless EES receives all the peer group envelopes at the same time.

If you are a new department representative or your department has never used a Department Core before, call the ACE Coordinator at 335-0357 to clarify procedures.

The following outlines two different formats for batch ordering of ACE answer sheets:


Department Core – No Custom Items

  With this format, all faculty use the exact same form (Department Core) and are not allowed to add items to their ACE answer sheets. Complete the following steps to order ACE answer sheets for your entire department or college:
1. Request an ACE packet from the EES ACE Coordinator.
2. On the cherry address form print your name on the ‘Mail to (if different than instructor)’ line, the department name, and your mailing address
3. On the ACE Header Sheet print and grid the following:
A. The department name in the ‘Instructor Name or Course Title’ box.
B. The number of copies needed for the entire department.
C. The number of classes that will be using the forms.
D. A phone number or email address
E. Due date
F. Camera ready copy for any items that are to be printed on the back of the ACE answer sheets.
G. Form number
H. Place the ACE Header Sheet and address sheet (EES address showing) in the blue envelope and return it to EES. In some departments there may be more than one ACE form used for designated groups, for example, one form might be used for faculty and a different form for TAs. An ACE Header Sheet must be submitted for each unique form number.
I. EES will send the printed answer sheets, enough blue envelopes, ACE Header Sheets and administration directions for the number of classes indicated in the order. Pack and distribute an ACE envelope to each faculty member.

NOTE: Once faculty receive their ACE packets they must complete the Name, Course Number, and Form Number fields on the ACE Header Sheet or, this should be done by the department representative prior to distributing the packets. The individual faculty information is printed on the results for identification purposes. No ACE answer sheets will be scanned without a complete ACE Header Sheet.

II. Department Core Plus Faculty Selected Items
  With this format, faculty are required to use a Department Core but can also include items of their own choosing on their ACE answer sheets. This format requires that you:
1. Request an ACE packet for each instructor and course.
2. Complete the cherry address sheet including the instructor name, course number, name of the department representative on the ‘Mail to (if different than instructor)’ line, department, room and building code. Many departments use a preprinted label for the ‘Mail to’ name and address
3. Distribute ACE packets to faculty and request that they complete the name, course number, phone or email, form number, item serial numbers, and the Department Core ID on the front and back of the ACE Header Sheet.


Administering and Returning ACE Answer Sheets for Scanning – Faculty Instructions
1. Place the address sheet and ACE Header Sheet in the blue envelope with the EES address showing through the window. The instructor/department address information on the cherry address form must be complete.
Select a student to be responsible for collecting the completed ACE answer sheets. Instruct the student to return the forms by inserting them in the blue envelope under the address sheet and then doing one of the following:
A. If your forms include a Department Core, have the student return the
envelope to the department’s ACE representative.
B. If you ordered your own forms and your department does not use a
Department Core have the student return the packet by either placing it
in campus mail, returning it to a central collection place in your department, or
dropping it off in person at EES.
3. Pass out one ACE answer sheet to each student and read the administrative instructions exactly as printed. Reading a preprinted script helps standardize the evaluation process.
4. Exit the room while the evaluation is being completed. Under no circumstances, should student responses be viewed by you before they are returned to EES for processing.
5. Answer sheets are scanned by EES and a copy of the results and answer sheets are mailed to the address provided on the ACE address sheet after the Registrar's grade submission deadline.

NOTE: A separate ACE Header Sheet, address sheet and blue envelope is required for each unique course – do not put answer sheets with different form numbers in the same ACE envelope.

To help us save on costs, we ask that you not store your results in the blue envelope but return the envelope to EES in campus mail – a return address is stamped inside the envelope window.

Order Deadlines
The permanent deadlines for ordering ACE forms are November 10th for the fall semester and April 10th for the spring semester. Orders will be filled and mailed a few days prior to the due date indicated on the ACE Header Sheet. If you submit an order after the deadline, you will be provided with preprinted standard forms. Standard forms contain general items and are available with or without the student core.

Mailing Results
The ACE Header Sheet includes an area for instructors to indicate whether an evaluation is formative (before end of course) or summative (end of course). Formative evaluations will be processed on receipt and the results returned within a week to the instructor. Results for summative evaluations will not be returned until the end of each semester after grades have been submitted to the Office of the Registrar.

Interpreting Student Responses
It is fairly easy to summarize student responses to course evaluations but very difficult to interpret what those responses mean. The value of student ratings increases when attention is focused on response patterns both within a class and over time rather than on a numeric index of teaching ability. Careful consideration should be given to response frequencies, particularly if a third or more of the students in a class are disagreeing with an item.

Normative information is intended only to give instructors a rough guideline of their relative standing within an appropriate norm group. It is important that the limitations of norms be kept in mind when score interpretations are made. With norms, if every instructor within a department received superior ratings, fifty percent would still appear to be average or below. Likewise, if every instructor received poor ratings, the norms table would show fifty percent being above average. Norms provide guidelines, not absolutes.

ACE Example Return to Using the ACE System
The following pages show an example of an ACE order from start to finish. Each page has been labeled and a short explanation is given below.

Address Form

This is a two-sided address label. One side is preprinted with the Exam Service address and the other side provides space for an instructor’s name, course number, and address. This label will be used in conjunction with the special blue ACE envelopes to send orders, completed forms, and results back-and-forth between EES and you.


Ordering Instructions

This page contains step-by-step instructions on how to complete the ACE Header Sheet for ordering ACE answer sheets. The ACE Header Sheet will be returned with your printed ACE answer sheets and must be submitted again when answer sheets are returned to EES for scanning.



If you are not responsible for ordering your own answer sheets, you will still need to complete parts of an ACE Header Sheet to be submitted with the completed forms for scanning. This page explains those parts of the ACE Header Sheet that need to be completed for scanning services only. ACE Header Sheets should be available from the person in your department responsible for ordering answer sheets.


ACE Header

This is an example of a completed ACE Header Sheet. In this example, the instructor has requested ACE answer sheets that include a departmental core, instructor-selected items from the ACE item pool, custom items, and the student core.


Custom Items

This is an example of an original for duplication of custom items on the back of ACE answer sheets. An original for custom items must be submitted on 8.5” x 11” white paper with the following margins: a left margin of ½”; a top margin of ½”; and a maximum text width of 5½” (making the right margin 2½”). The bottom margin will vary depending on whether or not the student core option has been selected. With student core items, the bottom margin should be 3½” and without, the bottom margin should be 1½”.


ACE Answer Sheet

This is an example of the ACE answer sheet that would result from the ACE Header Sheet and duplicating original shown in Samples 4 and 5.


Administering Directions

These are directions for administering ACE, including a standard statement to be read to students. Some departments or colleges may have custom scripts for administering course evaluations.


Results Descriptions

This sheet, explaining the results from an ACE evaluation is available online as a reference.


Sample Results

This is an example of the results from an ACE evaluation.


Norms Table

This is an example of a norms table that would be sent to a department chair or college dean. This table gives the median at select percentile points from the distribution of course medians for the designated norm group.


Standard Form X001

This is an example of the standard form X001 without student core questions.


Standard Form X002

This is an example of the standard form X002 with student core questions on the back.



The following is a brief list of resources for information related to instructor and course evaluation.

Abrami, P.C. (1989). How should we use student ratings to evaluate teaching. Research in Higher Education, 30(2), 221-227.

Abrami, P.C., D’Appollonnia, S., & Cohen, P.A. (1990). Validity of student ratings of instruction: What we know and what we do not know. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(2), 219-231.

Bednash, G. (1991). Tenure review: Process and outcomes. Review of Higher Education, 15(1), 47-63.

Braskamp, L.A., Brandenburg, D.C., & Ory, J.C. (1984). Evaluating teaching effectiveness: A practical guide. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Cashin, W.E., & Downey, R.G. (1992). Using global student rating items for summative evaluation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84(4), 563-572.

Cross, K. P., & Angelo, T. Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for faculty. Ann Arbor, MI: National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, 1988.

Marsh, H.W. (1980). The influence of student, course and instructor characteristics on evaluations of university teaching. American Educational Research Journal, 17, 219-237.

Marsh, H.W. (1984). Students’ evaluations of university teaching: Dimensionality, reliability, validity, potential biases, and utility. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 707-754.

Miller, R.I., (1987). Evaluating faculty for promotion and tenure. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Milman, J. (Ed.) (1981). Handbook of teacher evaluation. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Overall, J.U., & Marsh, H.W. (1980). Students’ evaluations of instruction: A longitudinal study of their stability. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 321-325.

Rando, W.C., & Firing Lenze, L. (1994). Learning from student: Early term student feedback in higher education. National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.

Root, L. S. (1987). Faculty evaluation: Reliability of peer assessments of research, teaching, and service. Research in Higher Education, 26(1), 71-84.

Seldin, P. (1982). Changing practices in faculty evaluation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Theall, M., & Franklin, J. (Eds.), Student ratings of instruction: Issues for improving practice, new directions for teaching and learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Weimer, M. (1990). Improving college teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.