PHILOSOPHY OF SELF-EVALUATION
Evaluation: a history of approaches
Over the last century a series of evaluation approaches has been developed, tried out and more
or less implemented. Evaluation started as merely measurement of individual learning
outcomes. Later the definition was widened and emphasis was put on goal- oriented
evaluation. In the seventies of the last century a number of new models and approaches was
introduced, among them decision-making models, consumer models, art criticism-like
approaches, legal models, democratic models, etc.
After the seventies a long period followed in which the approaches became more and more
eclectic. No longer did evaluators think of only one model or one approach as the best. The
challenge became to find the best match between what the school, or the people, asking for
evaluation needed and the approach chosen.
In the late eighties and early nineties, when it became more and more popular to consider
schools as learning organisations, evaluators became more and more aware of the necessity to
organise evaluation in such a way that it provides an optimal learning opportunity for those
for whom, and probably with whom, the evaluation is carried out. In this article this last
position is chosen. Evaluation, no matter whether it focuses on pupil learning, on the quality
of teaching, on organisational or management matters, or school leadership, or what ever else
will always have to provide those who wish to evaluate with the best possible opportunities to
learn from their experiences.
Evaluation of education is the process of systematic collection, analysis and exchange of data
concerning educational processes of either individuals, groups or organisations (institutions,
etc.) in order to facilitate learning among all parties concerned so value judgement and
decision-making may be based on evidence.
Evaluation covers all areas of provision of education, teaching methods, finance,
management, general direction and leadership and the pursuit of long-term objectives. It gives
the parties involved a better understanding of what they are doing. It may enhance the
innovative potential by highlighting successful initiatives and by explaining the context of
these successes. At a deeper level, its findings may lead to new priorities and/or higher
compatibility between choices and resources. Basically it all comes down to learning from
one's professional experience.
Even though some forms of evaluation have long been every-day practices at schools, the
overall culture of evaluation needs improvement even in the most developed countries.
However, the urgency of elaborating appropriate educational evaluation strategies may be
more vital in the new partner states. Educational reforms of more or less the same nature take
place both in EU countries and in other partner states. For some countries reform actually
means a series of dramatic alterations to be managed in a very short time scale.
Evaluation and School Autonomy
All over Europe school systems are developing in directions that allow schools more
autonomy. This means that the school will be given more freedom to make policy decisions of
its own. Schools increasingly are held responsible for the quality of the education provided.
The consequence of growing autonomy within education is a change of the role that schools,
authorities and other stakeholders play in quality development, and in quality control. Schools
become more and more the initiators of their development. In many countries schools
nowadays have more freedom to determine their programmes and plans to their own
preference, or rather to the preference of the immediate stakeholders such as parents and
students. At the same time, they have to make their views, their choices, and their decisions
more transparent. They have to be able to prove that quality standards are being met, that
drop-out rates are kept low, that results are good, that parents appreciate the school, that
measures for improvement are taken if necessary... to name just a few quality indicators.
The trend towards more school autonomy has had its implications in various areas within
education. In school development it led to more school-based initiatives and policies.
Inservice training shifted from university-based (or institution-based) to school-based Schools
identify their policies; inservice needs are derived from these policies and inservice training,
or rather inservice learning, is planned accordingly. Learning has become the central issue at
all levels. Traditionally schools were considered places where pupils learn and teachers teach.
Nowadays this idea is gradually extending to the view that schools should also be learning
environments for teachers and managers or technical or administrative staff. 'Life long
learning', 'learning teams' and 'action learning' are concepts that are gaining support among
educationalists. The development of new knowledge and new technologies requires that
workers in schools are capable learners, who are able to share their capabilities with young
people. At the level of the organisation of schools this trend has brought new concepts such as
the learning organisation, self-directing teams, and more recently the concept of knowledge
productivity. Knowledge productivity is referring to the potential of an organisation (a school)
to identify, absorb, generate, spread and apply (new) knowledge. Here 'knowledge' is used in
the broadest sense of the word. Knowledge includes subject expertise, problem solving skills,
communicative skills, reflective and meta-cognitive skills, the ability to regulate motivation,
emotions and beliefs. All these competencies are supposed to develop optimally, if a balance
is to be found between the degree of stability and security in an organisation and a certain
level of creative turmoil. Too much stability may makes an organisation lose its energy; too
much turmoil may make the organisation explode, collapse, turn to apathy etc.
Relatively autonomous schools develop their own plans within the framework of national
standards. Such schools choose to some extent their own materials and methods; they identify
and implement their own staff development policies; they choose their own school
organisation structure; they seek their own partners and establish their own partnerships with
other schools or institutions of other kinds, such as research institutions, advisory bodies,
partners from other areas of society (social work, libraries, IT agencies etc.)
Schools having a higher degree of professional autonomy now seek their own partners to
develop their views and their policies. During the last few years a great number of school
partnerships have been established to share experiences, to develop ideas or to implement
common policies. Stimulated by the European Union, many school partnerships have been, or
will be established, to promote the European dimension in schools in European countries (EU
member states and non-member states). In some countries national or regional school
partnerships are promoted to support processes of change and improvement at all levels.
(Trans) national school partnerships may be considered to be part of the powerful learning
environments schools nowadays need to create for themselves in order to continue their
learning and to extend their own ability to learn.
Evaluation and Learning
Learning has become the key issue at all levels in schools. The learning of pupils always was
a key issue; today the learning of all others involved is the challenge of modern educational
systems. Feedback is the most powerful component in processes of learning. Individuals need
to know what the result of their actions is and what impact it has, in order to know what to
change, what to emphasise, what to add or to avoid in future. In organisations and particularly
in schools, evaluation and assessment fulfil that feedback role at all levels and in different
ways. The classroom practice, the school curriculum, the learning materials, the staff
development, the school development, the management of the school the co-operation
between schools... evaluations may take place within each of these areas and form the input
for processes of learning and professional growth within the school. More specifically
evaluation of these areas includes:
Evaluation of pupils (tests, assessment, selection)
Evaluation of staff (selection, appraisal, inservice feedback)
Evaluation of programmes/curricula (evaluation of learning books, courses,
organisation of the school year, subject areas, school curricula, national curricula)
Evaluation of schools (quality control, consumer's information/public relations,
Evaluation of school development (school audit, evaluation of school's policies or
change processes, evaluation of implementation, evaluation of short term and long
term progress etc.)
Evaluation of (transnational) school partnerships (evaluation of the quality of the co-
operation, evaluation of shared projects, evaluation of impact in the school, evaluation
of effects on pupils, staff and parents).
Evaluation of school leadership and school management
Autonomy, autonomous learning and self evaluation
As schools develop towards a greater autonomy, students are trained to engage in self-
directed learning. They are stimulated to develop their learning competence in order to
prepare themselves for a future in which learning will be lifelong and in which learning
abilities will be the most selective features in any area of professional life. In this context of
autonomisation of both the schools and students, teachers need to find answers as well. They
will have to choose a position that enables them to contribute to the new requirements, but at
the same time they must find a way to take a professional stand, to defend what was
worthwhile and bring about what is even better. This means the teachers themselves will have
to seek a kind of autonomy. Not the kind of autonomy that leads to isolation, but the
awareness that the teaching force has its own position, its own responsibilities, its own ideals
and its own professionalism within schools, within projects, within one's discipline within the
educational system and within society.
The new educational scenery now is beginning become clear. At all levels the autonomy
increases, but the requirements change with it. This goes for leaders, students and teachers
and all others active in the education.
Leaders and managers
Schools and school principals and managers play their part. They lead, they manage, and they
account for what they are doing and if they learn from their experience, they will further
improve their performance. Leaders are responsible for creating and maintaining a learning
climate in which professional growth, knowledge productivity, quality and an innovative
potential come to flourish.
The students learn how to learn. They have to develop the competence to acquire new
knowledge to apply new knowledge and to reflect on it and on its utility or value. In order to
be able to do so they will need room for research, for discovery, for trial and error, for
reflection. Eventually they will have to report and prove their achievements. The new media,
the rich learning environment modern times offer to students have created a "zapping
generation" of students that need to be able to seek their own way in the abundance of
information available. These new conditions require highly skilled learners. Traditional
teaching no longer provides the answer to these newly developed needs.
Teachers are the people who must play the most important part in creating the powerful
learning environment students need. Teachers form the group that creates the learning
conditions and that provides the professional input into the school curriculum. Teachers have
to meet standards, e.g. national exams, co-ordinated tests. Their role is changing over the
recent decades from primarily transmitting knowledge towards a more facilitating role.
Mentoring, coaching and tutoring, gained importance along teaching. The changing demands
and new challenges for teachers put them in the positions of learners too. Only those willing
to learn, to adapt or to change will be able to keep in control and fulfil the task teachers are
facing in a way that meets the needs of the modern younger generation.
Evaluation and negotiation
So far we have tried to explain that evaluation serves a feedback function in the learning
processes of all parties concerned. We took the position that evaluation is mainly aiming at
creating opportunities for systematic learning from one's experiences. Furthermore it was
made clear that the present emphasis on school autonomy and the importance of self-
regulation, or autonomous study skills among students, forces schools and teachers into a
direction in which learning becomes a core activity and a core challenge for all the people
involved. Another element in our philosophy is the idea that evaluation as part of a
professional learning environment requires interaction among all the stakeholders or actors
playing a part in the school, in the teaching/mentoring and in the learning processes.
This interaction serves two purposes. First it makes people put their views into words. By
doing so it adds to their understanding of the situation. As such it is a way of processing the
information people gather about their own situation. It makes things explicit and it reveals the
relations between the observed facts. It supports the learning processes of the people involved
Secondly, in matters of evaluation the various stakeholders have different interests. These
interests may either parallel each other, or be in conflict. This fact may be seen as an obstacle
for smooth evaluations. However, from a learning perspective it also may be perceived as an
advantage. Those involved in evaluation will be motivated to become active participants in
the evaluation, if evaluation really matters to them. Like in politics people need to be able to
identify with certain positions and interests in order to feel motivated to step forward, to take
a stand, to defend their interests, to seek coalitions, to vote, elect and be elected. Those who
get involved in evaluations in such a way will benefit most from it. The discussions, the
concerns and their motivation will support their learning to the maximum. To them evaluation
Evaluation is learning
Basically evaluation is about but learning. Processing information about one's own
performance (individually or as an organisational unit or even an organisation as a whole) in
order to improve or change it, is basically a learning activity.
Learning as social constructivism
With changing concepts of learning the concept of evaluation has changed. Evaluation and
learning developed along the same lines from a test psychological past through the era of
behaviourism into the cognitive era, finally leading to the present social constructivist
approach. Today learning is perceived as a process in which the learner is actively creating his
or her own knowledge. Knowledge at present is seen as a whole range of learning outcomes
varying from cognitive knowledge including meta-cognitive and reflective skills, to
behavioural skills, social skills and affective outcomes such as attitudes, norms and values.
Evaluation is predominantly adult learning
In most situations in which evaluations are set up and carried out, the audiences and the target
groups consist of adult workers, staff or managers. This makes it relevant to consider the
conditions known to be essential in the learning environment of adult learners.
Adult are known to learn best, or to gain most from learning experiences in which a
connection is made with real events and real experiences derived from their working
Furthermore adults like to have opportunities to have input in the discussions, rather
than being lectured or taught.
A safe and secure environment is an important condition, since it reduces the threat of
being exposed to, and damaged by a criticism.
Adults tend to judge the value of learning by the applicability of the results. They feel
a need for practical and applicable knowledge. Of course this varies with the dominant
learning styles a person is characterised by.
Adult like to be acknowledged and recognised.
Self evaluation is organisational learning
Evaluation usually deals with projects or programmes in which people work together. After
the evaluation, they will have to continue to work together and to improve their performance
together. Collective or organisational learning is vital for raising collective performance.
Therefore evaluation should be organised in such a way that the insights gained from it will
find their way in the school organisation. The individual learning thus may affect others
through direct transfer of the acquired knowledge and experience, or it may be transformed
into changes or improvements of structures, methods, technologies, rules and regulations
within the organisation.
Self evaluation is best planned and organised as a learning process
For an evaluation to offer the optimal opportunities for learning of everyone involved in it, the
be motivating both for the issues being reflected upon and for the activities included;
provide a rich internal and external learning environment;
give opportunities for experimentation;
promote dialogue and feedback;
include (self) assessment;
feed back data about learning outcomes, effects and impact.
In the next chapter of this paper these implications will be further elaborated and translated
into a frame work for a future oriented, self-initiated, highly active, interactive, efficient, kind
of evaluation. This framework will not be prescriptive in a narrow sense because it will give a
sense of direction in the numerous considerations that may be involved in planning an
Jaap Van Lakerveld