Tips on Assessment, Evaluation and Dissemination

Assessment and evaluation are required of all federally funded projects for many reasons:

  • for accountability,
  • to demonstrate that goals or expected outcomes have been met,
  • to provide evidence to convince skeptical colleagues and critics,
  • to help measure change or impacts, and
  • to help identify and chart out necessary corrections as a project evolves.

The terms assessment and evaluation are often used interchangeably, and one glossary of evaluation (NSF 97-153) defines assessment as "often used as a synonym for evaluation." Diane Ebert-May offers that assessment is "data collection with a purpose,"and often addresses the "what questions about teaching and learning—what do students know and what can they do?"Assessment provides evidence that things are working or not (e.g. Do students actually learn better?). Evaluation may be defined as "the systematic investigation of the merit or worth of an object" (NSF 93-152) and is often used in the context of "what value has been added through this project, and how do you know?" Project evaluation is often used to demonstrate accountability (e.g. have the project goals been met?).

Assessment of education and outreach programs may be done for many reasons, on many scales and the results may be utilized by different interested groups-including top-to-bottom project reviews, evaluation of the effectiveness of specific materials or methods, indicators of student learning, long-term impacts of a project, confirmation that the goals of a project have been met. Assessment activities may also lead to more expansive research on learning projects. The scholarship of teaching and learning provides many exciting (and much needed) opportunities to form partnerships with the cognitive and social sciences.

There are a few basic principles that will help you effectively develop your own assessment plans to best meet the needs of your project:

  • Clearly define project goals and expected outcomes at the start.
  • What is the purpose of the assessment? Who will use the results and in what way?
  • Identify the baseline data you will need to document change.
  • There is an arsenal of assessment techniques that are available; pick the right tools and metrics that will provide the information required to meet your needs.
  • Assessment is done throughout the course of a project for varying reasons: formative assessment is done to provide feedback for ongoing activities, and to inform any needed mid-course corrections; summative assessment is done to measure a project's overall success; longitudinal assessment tracks impacts beyond the duration or initial scope of the project.
  • The assessment plans should be integral to the development and management of the project, not just added on as an after-thought.
  • Develop partnerships with colleagues who have knowledge and expertise in assessment.

Assessment and Evaluation Resources

The resources listed below are meant to provide a "primer" on assessment and evaluation. The list is not comprehensive, but should provide you with enough supporting information to help you develop appropriate assessment activities in your own projects.

From NSF

User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation - Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Education, 1993, Floraline Stevens, Frances Lawrenz and Laure Sharp, edited by Joy Frechtling. NSF 93-152

User-Friendly Handbook for Mixed Method Evaluations, 1997, Edited by Joy Frechtling and Laure Sharp. NSF 97-153


Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation (PARE) is an on-line journal. Its purpose is to provide education professionals access to refereed articles that can have a positive impact on assessment, research, evaluation, and teaching practice, especially at the local education agency level.

National Institute for Science Education

[link 'Field Tested Learning Assessment Guide (FLAG)'] for science, mathematics, engineering and technology instructors The FLAG offers broadly applicable, self-contained modular classroom assessment techniques (CATs) and discipline-specific tools for SMET instructors interested in new approaches to evaluating student learning, attitudes and performance. Each has been developed, tested and refined in real colleges and universities classrooms. The FLAG also contains an assessment primer, a section to help you select the most appropriate assessment technique(s) for your course goals, and other resources.

On-Line Education Resource Library (OERL) This library was developed by SRI for professionals seeking to design, conduct, document, or review Project evaluations. OERL is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

North Carolina State University Internet Resources for Higher Education Outcomes Assessment A portal to numerous web-accessible resources on assessment

The Evaluation Center, Western Michigan University Extensive links to assessment resources, tools, agencies, funding, and much more

Bill Trochim's Center for Social Research Methods Recommended by NSF/EHR/REC Program Officer; many resources on research methods, concept mapping, statistics, etc.

Disciplinary Examples

ConcepTests in Chemistry

Suggested Readings

Angelo, T.A., and K.P. Cross. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

The Role of Formative Evaluation in the Development of an Interdisciplinary Academic Center, Susan B. Millar, NISE Occasional Paper 8, 2000 (PDF File)

Doing Assessment As If Learning Matters Most, Thomas A. Angelo, May 1999 AAHE Bulletin
From this article: 10 Guidelines for Assessing As If Learning Matters Most
If learning really matters most, then our assessment practices should help students develop the skills, dispositions, and knowledge needed to:

  • Engage actively - intellectually and emotionally - in their academic work.
  • Set and maintain realistically high, personally meaningful expectations and goals.
  • Provide, receive, and make use of regular, timely, specific feedback.
  • Become explicitly aware of their values, beliefs, preconceptions, and prior learning, and be willing to unlearn when necessary.
  • Work in ways that recognize (and stretch) their present learning styles or preferences and levels of development.
  • Seek and find connections to and real-world applications of what they're learning.
  • Understand and value the criteria, standards, and methods by which they are assessed and evaluated.
  • Work regularly and productively with academic staff.
  • Work regularly and productively with other students.
  • Invest as much engaged time and high-quality effort as possible in academic work.

Information on Dissemination

User-Friendly Handbook for Project Dissemination: Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Education, 1994, Donald P. Ely and A. Michael Huberman (NSF 94-17) (This is out of print and difficult to obtain, but still has a lot of good, basic advice).

National Institute for Science Education - Dissemination

Interacting with Professional Audiences

Communicating with Mass Audiences

National Institute for Science Education Evaluation of "The Why Files" World Wide Web Site

The Why? Files - Science Behind the News

This page created and maintained by Dave Mogk

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