The many functions of evaluation in education


  • D. C. Phillips Stanford University



formative evaluation, summative evaluation, value judgements, decision-oriented research, conclusion-oriented research, unintended effects, functions of evaluation


This paper focuses upon the many functions that are served by evaluations, and by the process of conducting them. Many forms or types of evaluation have evolved to serve these different functions; and a brief account is given of some of the most common of these forms and the issues or controversies that they have engendered. The discussion opens, after a brief historical note, by describing the differing views of Lee Cronbach and Michael Scriven about whether an evaluator should aim to educate stakeholders about the program so that they can make informed decisions about it, or whether evaluators should go further and make a value judgement about it. The discussion then moves on to the importance of not overlooking the unintended effects of a program that is under study; and after presenting a list of functions that evaluations can have, the remainder of the discussion deals with the “pros” and “cons” of, and the differences between, formative and summative evaluations.  


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Author Biography

D. C. Phillips, Stanford University

D. C. Phillips was born, educated, and began his professional life in Australia; he holds a B.Sc., B.Ed., M. Ed., and Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne. After teaching in high schools and at Monash University, he moved to Stanford University in the USA in 1974, where for a period he served as Associate Dean and later as Interim Dean of the School of Education, and where he is currently Professor Emeritus of Education and Philosophy. He is a philosopher of education and of social science, and has taught courses and also has published widely on the philosophers of science Popper, Kuhn and Lakatos; on philosophical issues in educational research and in program evaluation; on John Dewey and William James; and on social and psychological constructivism. For several years at Stanford he directed the Evaluation Training Program, and he also chaired a national Task Force representing eleven prominent Schools of Education that had received Spencer Foundation grants to make innovations to their doctoral-level research training programs. He is a Fellow of the IAE, and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Education, and has been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Among his most recent publications are the Encyclopedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy (Sage; editor) and A Companion to John Dewey’s “Democracy and Education” (University of Chicago Press).




How to Cite

Phillips, D. C. (2018). The many functions of evaluation in education. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 26, 46.



Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Educational Evaluation