5 essentials for effective evaluation

This report was originally published 26 May 2016.

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All education programs are well-intentioned and many of them are highly effective. However, there are usually more ways than one to achieve good educational outcomes for students. When faced with this scenario, how do educators and education policymakers decide which alternative is likely to provide most ‘bang for buck’?

There’s also an uncomfortable truth that educators and policymakers need to grapple with: some programs are not effective and some may even be harmful. What is the best way to identify these programs so that they can be remediated or stopped altogether?

Program evaluation is a tool to inform these decisions. More formally, program evaluation is a systematic and objective process to make judgements about the merit or worth of our actions, usually in relation to their effectiveness, efficiency and appropriateness (NSW Government 2016).

Evaluation and self-assessment is at the heart of strong education systems and evaluative thinking is a core competency of effective educational leadership. Teachers, school leaders and people in policy roles should all apply the principles of evaluation to their daily work.

Research shows that:

  • Effective teachers use data and other evidence to constantly assess how well students are progressing in response to their lessons (Timperley & Parr, 2009).
  • Effective principals constantly plan, coordinate and evaluate teaching and the use of the curriculum with systematic use of assessment data (Robinson, Lloyd & Rowe, 2008).
  • Effective education systems engage all school staff and students in school self-evaluations so that program and policy settings can be adjusted to maximise educational outcomes (OECD, 2013).

This Learning Curve sets out five conditions for effective evaluation in education. These are not the only considerations and they are not unique to education. However, if these parameters are missing, evaluation will not be possible or it will be ineffective.

The five prerequisites for effective evaluation in education are:

  1. Start with a clear and measurable statement of objectives
  2. Develop a theory about how program activities will lead to improved outcomes (i.e. a program logic) and structure the evaluation questions around that logic
  3. Let the evaluation questions determine the evaluation method
  4. For questions about program impact, either a baseline or a comparison group will be required (preferably both)
  5. Be open-minded about the findings and have a clear plan for how to use the results.


  • Research report

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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