Methodological perspectives: Standardized (summative) or contextualized (formative) evaluation?


  • Richard J. Shavelson Stanford University (Emeritus)



Summative Evaluation, Formative Evaluation, Evaluation Methods, Politics of Evaluation


A critical issue in educational evaluation is whether evaluations should focus on standardized (summative, often quantitative) or contextualized (formative or often qualitative) evidence. The author of this article advises readers to beware of false dichotomies. The big issue is not whether evaluations should be “standardized” or “contextualized” but rather whether the evidence collected rigorously addresses the policy and/or practice questions driving the evaluation. The questions asked, in turn, lead to evaluation designs which may be standardized (summative), contextualized (formative) or both. Three general questions drive research and evaluation: (1) Descriptive—What’s Happening? (2) Causal—Is there a systematic effect? and (3) Process or mechanism—Why or how is it happening? Depending on the nature of the question, summative and/or formative data might be collected. Equally important are politics, measurement methods and modeling in conducting evaluations. Ignore these matters at your peril. Concrete examples show how assumptions and misperceptions can upend or change the outcomes of evaluation; they are drawn from political, measurement and statistical modeling contexts.


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Author Biography

Richard J. Shavelson, Stanford University (Emeritus)

Richard J. Shavelson is the Emeritus Margaret Jacks Professor and I. James Quillen Dean of the Graduate School of Education, Professor of Psychology (Courtesy), and Senior Fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment, at Stanford University. He served as president of the American Educational Research Association, is a member of the National Academy of Education and the International Academy of Education, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, American Psychological Society and the Humboldt Society (Germany). His current work includes assessment of undergraduates’ learning including the Collegiate Learning Assessment, accountability in higher education, and international performance assessment of learning. His publications include Statistical Reasoning for the Behavioral Sciences, Generalizability Theory: A Primer (with Noreen Webb), Scientific Research in Education (edited with Lisa Towne), and Assessing College Learning Responsibly: Accountability in a New Era (2010, Stanford University Press).




How to Cite

Shavelson, R. J. (2018). Methodological perspectives: Standardized (summative) or contextualized (formative) evaluation?. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 26, 48.



Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Educational Evaluation