Evaluative Thinking

Evaluative Thinking plays an important role in embedding continuous learning and improvement in the Ministry.

What is Evaluative Thinking?

Evaluative Thinking is about developing a habit of using good evidence to make judgements. It is a way to approach a course of action – a programme, briefing or even just a meeting – in a way that focuses on achieving the outcomes.

Evaluative Thinking involves constantly reflecting and questioning to make informed decisions. It is the state of mind that accompanies continuous improvement.

Have a look at the video produced by counterparts in New South Wales that discusses evaluation and Evaluative Thinking.  

[The speaker is Duncan Rintoul, Principal Project Officer, Evaluation Capacity Building at the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation.]

[The setting is against a plain backdrop with Duncan speaking directly to camera]

Evaluation as a discipline has been around for a long time. And it has a lot to offer us in education.

When you look at the structures and the systems we’re working with, like the teaching standards, the School Excellence Framework, you see evaluation practice is woven throughout.

It’s an expectation of how we teach in our classrooms, how we lead in our schools, how we function as a system.

Evaluation is what enables us to know our impact – and strengthen our practice in response.

How do we do it? What does it mean to think evaluatively about something?

In everyday language, the word evaluation describes the act of looking at something in the sunlight.

Not just so that we can see it or describe it, but so that we can weigh it up – what do we make of this thing? What’s it’s merit, it’s value, it’s worth?

You could take any practice in a school and ask questions about it:

  • What’s it trying to achieve?
  • What difference is it making for our students?
  • Is it meeting the needs of all our students, only some of them?

And in light of what we are seeking to achieve, are there things here that we ought to be doing differently or things we mustn’t change if we’re to make best use of the resources available to us?

The answers we give to questions like these – they really matter.

Which means we can’t afford to just base them on gut feel, anecdote, or the vibe.

That’s where evaluative thinking come in, as a disciplined approach to inquiry and reflective practice that help us keep our reasoning sharp, all year round:

  • making sound judgements
  • using good evidence
  • as part of our continuous improvement journey.

If you want to sharpen your evaluative practice, let me give you four good places to start.

First, be sure that you’re not making your mind up too quickly and then going hunting for evidence that supports your conclusion. That’s called confirmation bias, and it is not your friend when it comes to authentic evaluation.

Instead, work hard on suspending judgement, adopting a genuine spirit of inquiry.

The second discipline is to ask important questions.  Being an evaluative thinker is not about being the expert. It’s about being a great listener and observer who asks really good questions.

There’s three great lines of inquiry on your screen here.  Asking questions about rationale, effect and lessons learned will open up a lot of important conversations.

Where do you go to get answers to these questions? Well, the third discipline is about making good use of the data and evidence that’s already available to you - qualitative and quantitative data from within your school and data at a system level and of course staying abreast of the evidence coming from broader educational research.

If this doesn’t do the job, and it might not, then the fourth discipline is one of strengthening the quality of your evidence base as you go, with real clarity about where your blind spots are and how you can address these evidence gaps in a manageable and meaningful way as you move forward.

There are other videos that are going to pick up on each of these themes and expand them out.

For now though, let me leave you with a question from John Maynard Keynes, a well-known economist from the 20th Century, who said:

‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?’

For more go to the CESE website, cese.nsw.gov.au you’ll find guidelines, templates and more videos in this series.

(CESE: Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation)

End of transcript


Video source: Evaluation Capacity Building – Evaluative Thinking by the NSW Government / Duncan Rintoul