Curriculum Evaluation

Anthony M. Wanjohi:

Evaluation is the process of collecting data on a programme to determine its value or worth with the aim of deciding whether to adopt, reject, or revise the programme (Oluoch, 2006). Programmes are evaluated to answer questions and concerns of various parties. The public want to know whether the curriculum implemented has achieved its aims and objectives; teachers want to know whether what they are doing in the classroom is effective; and the developer or planner wants to know how to improve the curriculum product.

McNeil (1977) states that “curriculum evaluation is an attempt to throw light on two questions: Do planned learning opportunities, programmes, courses and activities as developed and organised actually produce desired results? How can the curriculum offerings best be improved?” (p.134).

Ornstein and Hunkins (1998) define curriculum evaluation as “a process or cluster of processes that people perform in order to gather data that will enable them to decide whether to accept, change, or eliminate something – the curriculum in general or an educational textbook in particular” (p.320).

Worthen and Sanders (1987) define curriculum evaluation as “the formal determination of the quality, effectiveness, or value of a programme, product, project, process, objective, or curriculum” (p.22-23).

Gay (1985) argues that the aim of curriculum evaluation is to identify its weaknesses and strengths as well as problems encountered in implementation; to improve the curriculum development process; to determine the effectiveness of the curriculum and the returns on finance allocated.

Oliva (1988) defined curriculum evaluation as the process of delineating, obtaining, and providing useful information for judging decision alternatives. The primary decision alternatives to consider based upon the evaluation results are: to maintain the curriculum as is; to modify the curriculum; or to eliminate the curriculum.

Types of Evaluation

Scriven (1967) differentiates evaluation as formative evaluation and summative evaluation. However, these have come to mean different things to different people. In this paper, Scriven’s original definition will be used.

Formative Evaluation

The term formative indicates that data is gathered during the formation or development of the curriculum so that revisions to it can be made. Formative evaluation may include determining who needs the programme (eg. secondary school students), how great is the need (eg. students need to be taught ICT skills to keep pace with expansion of technology) and how to meet the need (eg. introduce a subject on ICT compulsory for all secondary schools students). In education, the aim of formative evaluation is usually to obtain information to improve a programme.

In formative evaluation, experts would evaluate the match between the instructional strategies and materials used, and the learning outcomes or what it aims to achieve. For example, it is possible that in a curriculum plan the learning outcomes and the learning activities do no match. You want students to develop critical thinking skills but there are no learning activities which provide opportunities for students to practice critical thinking. Formative evaluation by experts is useful before full-scale implementation of the programme. Review by experts of the curriculum plan may provide useful information for modifying or revising selected strategies.

In formative evaluation, learners may be included to review the materials to   determine if they can use the new materials. For example, so they have the relevant prerequisites and are they motivated to learn. From these formative reviews, problems may be discovered. For example, in curriculum document may contain spelling errors, confusing sequence of content, inappropriate examples or illustrations. The feedback obtained could be used to revise and improve instruction or whether or not to adopt the programme before full implementation.

Summative Evaluation

The term summative indicates that data is collected at the end of the implementation of the curriculum programme. Summative evaluation can occur just after new course materials have been implemented in full (i.e. evaluate the effectiveness of the programme), or several months to years after the materials have been implemented in full. It is important to specify what questions you want answered by the evaluation and what decisions will be made as a result of the evaluation. You may want to know if learners achieved the objectives or whether the programme produced the desired outcomes. For example, the use of specific simulation software in the teaching of geography enhanced the decision making skills of learners. These outcomes can be determined through formal assessment tasks such as marks obtained in tests and examinations. Also of concern is whether the innovation was cost-effective. Was the innovation efficient in terms of time to completion? Were there any unexpected outcomes? Besides, quantitative data to determine how well students met specified objectives, data could also include qualitative interviews, direct observations, and document analyses

The Relationship between Formative and Summative Evaluation

During the development of a product or  service or, in the case of personnel, help in developing potential and gauging the extent to which required criteria for certification, tenure, promotion, and the like are met both formative and summative evaluations are needed (Stufflebeam and Shinkfield, 2007).

The relative emphasis of formative and summative evaluations will change according to the nature and circumstances of the evaluation. Formative evaluations are closely connected to program developers while summative evaluations are of more interests to the potential users of the developing programs (Stake, 1969). Finally, formative evaluation forms the basis for summative evaluations.


Ben-Peretz, M. (1990). The Teacher-Curriculum Encounter. Buffalo: State

University of New York Press.

Hawes, H. (1979). Curriculum and Reality in African Primary Schools. Harlow:

Longman Group Ltd, p. 68

Oluoch, G.P. (2006). Essentials of Curriculum Development (3rd ed.,). Nairobi: Printpoint Ltd.

Ornstein, A. and Hunkins, F. (1998). Curriculum: Foundations, principle and issues. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Sowell, E. (2000). Curriculum: An integrative introduction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Chapter 1: Overview of curriculum processes and products.

Stake, R. E. (1969). Evaluation design, instrumentation, data collection, and analysis of data. In J.L. Davis (Ed.), Educational evaluation. Columbus, OH: State Superintendant of public Instruction.

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