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How did evaluation become a bad word?

Posted on: January 26, 2017

The word “evaluation” might have been ill-defined and misused.

I was surprised to read someone like Senge reportedly saying this about evaluation.

Evaluation is when you add a value judgment into the assessment. Like, ‘Oh, I only walked two steps. I’ll never learn to walk.’ You see, that’s unnecessary. So, I always say, ‘Look, evaluation is really optional. You don’t need evaluation. But you need assessment.

Evaluation is about adding a value judgement into assessment. That is why it is called eVALUation. But that does not make evaluation negative or optional.

Student A might get an assessment score of 60/100. Student B might get an assessment score of 95/100. One way to evaluate the students is to compare them and say that student B performed better than A. More is better and that is the value, superficial as doing that may be.

If you consider that Student A previously got a score of 20/100 and B a previous score of 90/100, the evaluation can change. Student A improved by 40 points; student B by 5 points. The evaluation: Student A made much more improvement than Student B.

The value judgements we bring into assessments are part of evaluations. Assessments alone are scores and grades, and not to be confused with the value of those numbers and letters.

In the context of working adults who get graded after appraisals, a B-perfomer is better than a C-performer. The appraisal or assessment led up to those grades; the worker, reporting officer, and human resource manager place value in those letters (no matter how meaningless they might actually be).

The assessments of children and adults are themselves problematic. For kids, it might be a broad way of measuring a narrow band of capabilities (academic). For workers, it might be an over simplistic way of assessing complex behaviours. So the problem might first lie with assessment, not evaluation.

As flawed as different assessments may be, they are simply forms of measurement. We can measure just about anything: Reasoning ability, level of spiciness, extent of love, degree of beauty, etc. But only evaluation places value on those measurements: Einstein genius, hot as hell, head over heels, having a face only a mother could love.

I have noticed people — some of them claiming to be teachers or educators — not understanding the differences between assessment and evaluation. As the terms have not been made more distinct, evaluation has been misunderstood and misused.

Evaluation is not a negative practice and it is not optional. If evaluations seem overly critical (what went wrong, how to do better), they merely reflect the values, beliefs, and bias of the evaluator. We do not just need assessment, we also need evaluation to give a measurement meaning.

1 Response to "How did evaluation become a bad word?"

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