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

Richard J. Shavelson


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.


Summative Evaluation; Formative Evaluation; Evaluation Methods; Politics of Evaluation

Full Text:



Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM

Copyright (c) 2019 Richard J. Shavelson


Contact EPAA//AAPE at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College