In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Performance Objectives and Measurement

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals

Education Performance Objectives and Measurement
Courtney L. Brown, Mindy Hightower King
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 March 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0047


Performance objectives, often referred to as performance measures, are written statements that quantitatively describe the products, services, and outcomes of programs, agencies, or interventions. Most often, performance objectives/measures serve as a tool to help understand, manage, and improve how programs or organizations operate and the extent to which they effect desired change. Performance Measurement and Evaluation: Definitions and Relationships (US General Accounting Office 2011 [GAO-11-646sp], cited under General Overviews) provides the following definition: “Performance measurement is the ongoing monitoring and reporting of program accomplishments, particularly progress toward pre-established goals . . . Performance measures may address the type or level of program activities conducted (process), the direct products and services delivered by a program (outputs), or the results of those products and services (outcomes). A “program” may be any activity, project, function, or policy that has an identifiable purpose or set of objectives.” Performance measurement is an important practice in the public and nonprofit sectors of the United States and in many countries around the world. Executive and legislative initiatives require program administrators, contractors, and grantees to identify performance measures, set performance targets, and report on their progress toward meeting performance goals. As a result, program administrators and mangers frequently seek help in designing and implementing performance measurement strategies and systems. Often this support is provided by program evaluators, who bring stakeholders together to clarify program goals and determine how best to report results. Many of the citations included in this article are intended to provide readers with the skills to develop and implement “performance-measurement frameworks,” although the terms performance objectives, performance measures, and performance indicators are used interchangeably by different authors. A review of the literature in this area demonstrates that although there is some variation in the terminology used across different fields, performance measures or performance objectives always include a number and a unit of measure. In some cases, they may also be associated with goals (sometimes referred to as objectives, too). The citations in this article are intended to direct readers to works that define performance measurement and provide instructions on how to apply these constructs to individual programs or interventions. This article concludes with a brief section on tools and techniques related to the development of performance objectives/measure; this final section provides citations on examples and instructions for creating logic models, part of the performance-measurement framework, as well as specifics on writing performance objectives and measures.

General Overviews

The following references provide comprehensive overviews of performance measurement as it relates to the evaluation of programs and interventions across a variety of fields. Harry Hatry has been a leader in application of performance measurement to public and private agencies since the 1970s, and Hatry 2007, Performance Measurement: Getting Results, is widely used and is a must-have for anyone in the performance-measurement field. Hatry 2014 takes into account the technological advances and cultural changes that have made performance measurement systems even more relevant. The textbook Guerra-López 2008 is an excellent reference on models and approaches in the context of performance-based measurement and evaluation. The author takes the reader through the necessary steps of performance-focused evaluations, from the initial needs assessment to development of objectives and related activities, to the final report, with an emphasis on communicating on performance indicators. Harbour 2009 provides an overview of a performance measurement system, including the steps necessary to create one. US General Accounting Office 2011 includes only a brief introduction to performance measurement and several relevant definitions. However, it is the ideal reference for concise terminology related to the field. The web-based resource Performance-Based Management Special Interest Group 2001 describes three different approaches to developing performance measures. It is an excellent primer on the purpose of performance measurement systems and how they can be implemented. It includes a thorough glossary of terms, an inclusive list of references, and a substantial list of sample performance measures. In 1997, the journal New Directions for Evaluation published an entire edition on using performance measurement to improve the quality of public and nonprofit programs (see Newcomer 1997). This reference may not be very useful for those new to performance measurement, but it is essential reading for those who desire to be well versed in the area. Finally, Morris and Fitz-Gibbon 1978 provides a slightly dated but still relevant guide that details how to develop clear program goals and objectives that can help focus a program’s evaluation.

  • Guerra-López, Ingrid J. 2008. Performance evaluation: Proven approaches for improving program and organizational performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    This is a hands-on text for practitioners, researchers, educators, and students that describes how to use scientifically based evaluations that are both rigorous and flexible. The text introduces the foundations of evaluation and presents the most applicable models for the performance improvement field.

  • Harbour, Jerry L. 2009. The basics of performance measurement. 2d ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC.

    This book provides an introduction to the core aspects of performance measurement. The author provides a six-step method for developing a performance measurement system.

  • Hatry, Harry P. 2007. Performance measurement: Getting results. 2d ed. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

    A comprehensive description of all aspects of the performance measurement process. Includes directions for identifying trackable outcomes, developing indicators for each outcome, and collecting data. This new edition addresses developments in the field, including the increased availability of computer technology in collecting and presenting information and the movement to use outcome data to improve services.

  • Hatry, Harry P. 2014. Transforming Performance Measurement for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 30 July.

    In this report, the author examines performance measurement in the context of the new advances in technology and demand for data in the 21st century. The report provides recommendations of making use of the new advances in the implementation and use of performance measurement.

  • Morris, Lynn Lyons, and Carol Taylor Fitz-Gibbon. 1978. How to deal with goals and objectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Although somewhat dated, this is a straightforward, practical guide on how to clearly state program goals and objectives, particularly with regard to a program’s evaluation. Useful information is provided on how to use broadly stated goals versus detailed objectives and how to specify objectives that serve as formulas for developing measures of achievement and attitudes.

  • Newcomer, Kathryn. 1997. Using performance measurement to improve public and nonprofit programs. New Directions for Evaluation 75. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    This volume, though published some years ago, is one of the most useful reviews of the design and use of performance measurement in public and nonprofit programs. The authors describe the context surrounding design and implementation of performance measurement systems, discuss best practices in performance measurement, and provide examples of the use of performance measurement in all levels of government and the nonprofit sector.

  • Performance-Based Management Special Interest Group. 2001. The performance-based management handbook: A six-volume compilation of techniques and tools for implementing the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA). Vol. 2, Establishing an integrated performance measurement system.

    This online handbook was developed by a contractor funded by the US Department of Energy and describes three different approaches to developing performance measures. Applicable to any number of fields, however, and provides sections on performance indexing, data analysis, and reporting techniques related to GPRA. Also includes a glossary, references, and a substantial list of sample performance measures.

  • US General Accounting Office. 2011. Performance measurement and evaluation: definitions and relationships.

    This brief guide outlines the difference between performance measurement and evaluation, and defines process, outcome, and impact evaluation, as well as cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis.

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