Curriculum assessments have a variety of purposes depending upon the aim. Overall they have been positive experiences for me throughout my education in their attempt to construct an anonymous forum for feedback in the name of improving the curriculum. They can also prove to be troublesome for particular types of professors and for students who believe they are simply a formality and that they are not actually taken into consideration.
In my opinion, this can be a troublesome obstacle in the path of achieving greater transparency between professor performance ratings and the faculty boards that are responsible for the career paths of these professors. An example of a positive experience using curriculum assessments was my freshman year of college. I had an astronomy professor that was very aloof and seemingly arrogant in his lectures, but in his office hours was personable and humorous. He handed out the assessment after our midterm in the hope of improving the course for the second half.
He received overwhelming feedback in the same spirit as mine and he made a conscious effort to become more compassionate during his lectures. Needless to say the second half of the semester was much more enjoyable, hopefully for him as well. On the other hand, I had a negative experience with a tenured sociology professor. She had been at the university for over 35 years and she believed since she had been there for so long she would not benefit from student assessments.
We took the assessment after midterms and when she reported the results back to the students, she was visibly upset. She took the feedback as a personal attack instead of constructive criticism. The rest of the semester seemed forced and unnatural as she grudgingly held to her tactics. I believe the main purpose of the assessment is to provide students with an anonymous forum to voice their opinion about the professor and the course without fear of repercussion.
In addition, assessments can be used by the faculty board to determine which professors deserve a raise, or consideration for tenure. That being said, they have to be taken seriously, by the students, the professors, and the faculty boards. If they are discarded as simple formalities instead of given thoughtful interpretation and implementation, then they become a wasteful bureaucratic process. In this regard, assessments can have a great value as long as they are completed in good faith and are not personal attacks against a professor or a course.
They can provide specific examples and criteria on which to judge the success of not only a professor, but the course in general. Furthermore, assessments can be used across the board to map overall trends of the courses and the professors that teach them. Some institutions favor great professors while others are more focused on high profile research projects or on having their professors be powerful publishing presences.
If the goal of the institution is on the students themselves, then student assessments are vital parts of determining which professors best suit this aim. I think assessments are an overall positive approach to improving curriculum. They have to remain anonymous in order to maintain their integrity and honesty. Professors need to learn from them in the manner they are intended, that is that they are implemented with the greater good in mind; for the students, for the professors, and for the institutions of guiding principle.