In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Program Evaluation

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Politics, Independence, and Social Justice in Evaluation
  • Methodogical Issues: Design
  • Communicating Results
  • Use of Evaluation
  • Capacity Building and Organizational Learning from Evaluation
  • Ethical Issues, Principles, and Standards in Evaluation

Education Program Evaluation
Jody Fitzpatrick
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0121


Program evaluation involves making use of social science research methods to judge the quality of a program or policy. It typically is designed to provide information to program stakeholders, including funders; public administrators and policymakers; program managers, deliverers, and clients; or citizens in general, about a program and its quality. The purpose may be to help plan a program (needs assessment), to improve an existing program (formative evaluation), or to determine whether to continue or expand a program (summative evaluation). Program evaluation emerged in the United States with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and emerged in most European countries in the 1980s. Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have also been leaders in evaluation work. In the United States, most professional evaluators come from education and psychology. In Europe, and some other countries, evaluators are more likely to come from the fields of political science and economics. These differences in disciplinary training interact with and influence the choice of programs to evaluate and the methods used in evaluation studies. Today, pressures for accountability and transparency have led to an expansion of evaluation around the world. Evaluation associations are emerging in Asia (Asia Pacific Evaluation Association, or APEA, 2012), Africa (African Evaluation Association, or AfrEA, 1999), and South America, with several regional and national associations. Evaluators differ from researchers in that they work with a client to define information needs and collect data to meet those needs making use of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods as appropriate to the issues being addressed. Current issues in the field include a focus on outcomes, randomized control trials (RCTs), the role of evaluators in pursuing social justice, involving others in evaluation, building organizations’ and countries’ capacity for evaluation, and, a long-term concern, maximizing the use of evaluations.


Textbooks in evaluation are typically designed for graduate students and assume students already have a background in research methods. The textbooks listed below have been published in several editions and used over the years in the United States and countries around the world. They introduce readers to the field of evaluation, methods for approaching evaluation, and current issues in the field. The texts vary in the degree to which they orient readers to different theories and approaches that are debated in the field or focus primarily on methodology. Fitzpatrick, et al. 2011 gives more attention to the different evaluation theories and approaches and describes the planning stages in some detail. Mark, et al. 2000 presents the authors’ framework and discusses the role of evaluation in social betterment. Rossi, et al. 2004 cites examples in many fields and focuses on designs in evaluating larger programs.

  • Fitzpatrick, J. L., J. R. Sanders, and B. R. Worthen. 2011. Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines. 4th ed. Boston: Pearson.

    The only textbook to review different evaluation approaches considering the advantages and disadvantages of each. Authors advocate adopting elements of different approaches that suit the needs of a particular evaluation and setting. The second half of the book leads the reader through the various stages of conducting an evaluation from formulating the questions of interest to communicating results. Original focus was on educational settings.

  • Mark, M. M., G. T. Henry, and G. Julnes. 2000. Evaluation: An integrated framework for understanding, guiding and improving policies and programs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Reviews evaluation literature from three decades and presents the authors’ own framework for evaluation practice with an emphasis on evaluating to achieve social betterment. They describe evaluation’s role as sense-making in a realist world. They then describe methods for descriptive and causal evaluations using this perspective.

  • Rossi, P. H., M. E. Lipsey, and H. E. Freeman. 2004. Evaluation: A systematic approach. 7th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This classic textbook takes a more quantitative approach and is organized by the type of evaluation study being conducted (needs assessment, process, outcomes, cost studies, and meta-analysis), rather than the sequence of conducting an evaluation. Emphasis is more on design than on data collection. Examples and orientation tend to be on larger programs or policies.

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