The Political and Organizational Context of Educational Evaluation
Goals are particularly important for all kinds of evaluations ranging from program evaluations and school evaluations to the construction of examinations. Goals can be seen as “desired states” or “ideal type processes”, which in their turn can be used as targets and evaluation standards. For example: a certain level of attainment on a math score by at least 80% of the pupils, or use of the computer for at least 20 minutes during 80% of the language lessons. Moreover, goals need not necessarily be defined in such a precise, operational and quantitative form. Even when there is just a general notion of the dimensions on which an existing situation should be improved after a period of program implementation, or, in our case, schooling, we could still see the situation as goal-oriented and assessable. In the latter case an expert committee could be used to make the assessment. Generally, when the evaluation criteria remain more global and “open”, the requirements on the substantive expertise of evaluators should be particularly high, as they could be seen as replacing the rigor of otherwise applicable structured and standardized instruments. The presence of goals, specific or general, is an important feature of what can be referred to as the formal rationality of the evaluation setting. Where we could take “evaluation setting” as both the evaluation object and the larger context in which this object and the evaluation itself is taking place. Evaluation itself can be seen as part of the rationality model applied to policy programs or to the functioning of schools. The main features of this rationality model can be stated according to the following points (note that the concept of “program” which is frequently used in the points stated below should be interpreted in a broad sense, including, for example, a particular phase during regular schooling): x the program to be evaluated has goals, and the evaluation can be guided by
means of these goals; x the program itself is to be seen as a set of means, for which there exist some
reasoning with respect to the likelihood that they will indeed lead to goal attainment;
x planned, or “blue print” programs are also implemented according to plan; x evaluation has the general form of empirical investigation of whether goals are
attained on the basis of the program, i.e. the implemented set of means; x evaluation activities can be carried out in a relatively undisturbed and unbiased
way, free from all type of influence from parties with certain interests, and be conducted according to professional norms (i.e. standards of good evaluation practice);
x the results of the evaluation will be used for decision-making, which may be of a “formative” or “summative” nature, and in this way practice will be improved.
Oftentimes the last point does not occur so straightforwardly. Evaluation use is often of a less “linear” and “instrumental” nature but rather a gradual and fuzzy process of influencing conceptions of relevant actors.