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It is usual to distinguish different functions of

evaluation (Patton 1987, Weir and Roberts 1994,

Fink 1995). An evaluation can be carried out to
see if a programme has met its targets (summative
evaluation), checking, for example, whether or not
a predetermined proportion of students have
achieved a specified level of language proficiency.
The focus of such evaluations is usually accountability. The evaluation may investigate how far a
programme is on track to achieve its targets
(formative evaluation), looking, say, at how
teachers implement training in methodology
within a new curriculum; also, within a formative
approach, and starting out with no pre-set criteria,
the evaluators can, for example, study teachers'
attitudes and practice in order to understand how
a programme works. In cases such as these the
focus is usually on development. The complementary and overlapping nature of the focuses is
increasingly recognized, and developmental evaluations can contribute valuable information to
summative reviews (Mackay 1994).
The results of the evaluation may indicate that the
programme is working satisfactorily, but in general there is an expectation that they will reveal
areas for improvement. However, this does not
guarantee that the stakeholders will act on the
findings, or that the results will be available to
them in time. As this remark implies, evaluations
often give rise to practical difficulties, which are
further complicated by the political use that may
be made of them, especially where those who

commission the evaluations (usually the funding

body) either want them to show results favourable
to their view of the programme, or will use the
results for their own ends rather than those of
other stakeholder groups.
Two areas in particular have aroused controversy
within evaluation. In the past, questions about
approach have focused on the use of quantitative
versus qualitative measures associated with
experimental or naturalistic designs. However,
the use of both is now more widely accepted, and
the use of mixed methods is also advocated (e.g.
Lynch 1996). Current debate on approach is
concerned with how far evaluation deals with an
objective world, or whether it can only ever deal
with a socially constructed reality (positivism
versus constructivismsee Lynch 1996). Controversy over the conduct of evaluation has to do
with who carries it out, and how findings are used.
Early proponents of the use of evaluation in
education suggested that teachers should learn to
evaluate, but in many contexts the conduct and
results of evaluations have been kept in the hands
of administrators and inspectors, creating an air of
mystique and exclusion which has led people to
regard evaluation with suspicion.
More recent advocates of teachers' use of evaluation have tended to focus on evaluation for
development, and some practitioners in ELT
have adopted this approach (e.g. Rea-Dickins
and Lwaitama 1995). This move has been
prompted partly by a greater consciousness of
change and of the need for change, as well as by
researchers and educators turning their attention
to what happens in the classroom, and to teacher
development. Dissatisfaction with the management of programmes and the implementation of
new curricula has also brought increased attention
to the role that insider evaluation may play in
their development.
Ministries and officials, as well as practitioners,
now encourage the wider use of evaluation by
insiders such as teachers. However, the mechanical implementation of evaluation instruments by
untrained users is not fruitful. Even though
teachers may not be trained in all aspects of
evaluation, and may only have limited skills, the
crucial element is that they should be able to
control what they do in evaluation (Murphy 1996).
Evaluations need to be designed for the context in
which they are used, sensitive both to local

ELT Journal Volume 54/2 April 2000 Oxford University Press 2000

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Although evaluation has been increasingly used in

a variety of public spheres, including education,
for about 50 years, attention to evaluation and its
uses in ELT is relatively recent. Essentially,
evaluation is carried out to determine the extent
to which a programme or intervention is worthwhile, and to aid decision-making through the
purposeful gathering of information which is
analysed and reported to stakeholdersinterested parties who have a 'stake' in the activity
evaluated. The evaluation may be carried out by
professional evaluators or by a group made up
from the stakeholders; its scale may be nationwide
or within an institution; and it may take a few days
or several months to complete. Evaluators use the
methods of social science research, and the
discipline is sometimes referred to as 'evaluation

conditions and to the audience that will use them.

In essence, evaluation is either a practical, goaloriented activity or it is not worthwhilea point
which applies as much to large-scale evaluations
as to those conducted by teachers working on
their own or in a small group. The increasing body
of case studies of teachers using evaluation shows
that valuable results can be achieved for improving and developing curricula and professional
skills where limited resources are intelligently
used (e.g. Rea-Dickins and Lwaitama 1995).
Dermot F. Murphy

Key concepts in ELT


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Fink, A. 1995. Evaluation for Education and
Psychology. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Lynch, B. K. 1996. Language Program Evaluation.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mackay, R. 1994. 'Undertaking ESL/EFL programme review for accountability and improvement'. ELT Journal 48/2: 142-9.

Murphy, D. F. 1996. 'The evaluator's apprentices.

Learning to do evaluation'. Evaluation 2/3:
Patton, M. Q. 1987. How to Use Qualitative
Methods in Evaluation. Newbury Park: Sage
Rea-Dickins, P., and A. F. Lwaitama (eds.). 1995.
Evaluation for Development in English Language Teaching. Review of English Language
Teaching 3/3 1993. London: Modern English
Publications in association with the British
Weir, C, and J. Roberts. 1994. Evaluation in
ELT. Oxford: Blackwell.
The reviewer
Dennot Murphy teaches in the School of Education
at King's College London. He has experience of
conducting evaluations, and training teachers to
evaluate in Africa, Latin America, South-East Asia,
and Europe.
Email: <>