What is the difference between “assessment” and “evaluation?”

Confusion reigns over these two terms, and their usage wanders, depending on context. In this book we will use the following distinction:

Assessment is the process of objectively understanding the state or condition of a thing, by observation and measurement. Assessment of teaching means taking a measure of its effectiveness. “Formative” assessment is measurement for the purpose of improving it. “Summative” assessment is what we normally call “evaluation.”


Evaluation is the process of observing and measuring a thing for the purpose of judging it and of determining its “value,” either by comparison to similar things, or to a standard. Evaluation of teaching means passing judgment on it as part of an administrative process.


Ideally, a fair and comprehensive plan to evaluate teaching would incorporate many data points drawn from a broad array of teaching dimensions. Such a plan would include not only student surveys, but also self-assessments, documentation of instructional planning and design, evidence of scholarly activity to improve teaching, and most importantly, evidence of student learning outcomes.


But that is not all. A comprehensive evaluation of teaching would necessarily include various types of peer assessment, more commonly referred to as “peer observation.”