What is an Evaluation Anyway?

Essay by mongwato16A+, October 2004

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Rossi and Freeman (1993) define evaluation as "the systematic application of social research procedures for assessing the conceptualization, design, implementation, and utility of ... programs." There are many other similar definitions and explanations of "what evaluation is" in the literature. Our view is that, although each definition, and in fact, each evaluation is slightly different, there are several different steps that are usually followed in any evaluation. It is these steps which guide the questions organizing this handbook. An overview of the steps of a "typical" evaluation follows.

Summative Evaluation

Summative evaluations assess program outcomes or impacts. To determine the relationship of different factors to outcomes, similar to formative evaluations, some information used in summative evaluations is collected early in the life of a program (e.g., baseline data, test scores). Unlike formative evaluations, however, a portion of the information is collected after the program has been completely implemented and adequate time has passed to expect outcomes to occur.

In terms of evaluating educational technology, a summative evaluation might ask if teacher technology skills improved as a result of a professional development activity, if teachers are using technology to a greater extent in their instruction, or if technology improved student motivation or performance.

Some advantages of summative evaluations include:

· They can, if designed correctly, provide evidence for a cause-and-effect relationship.

· They assess long-term effects.

· They provide data on impacts.

· They can provide data on change across time.

Formative Evaluation

Evaluators often talk about two different types of evaluations: "formative" and "summative." A formative evaluation is usually conducted in the early stages of a program and addresses questions about implementation and ongoing planning. This type of evaluation typically examines process rather than product. In the case of technology programs, a formative evaluation might ask if equipment was...