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Journal of Extension Journal of Extension

Volume 54 Number 1 Article 7

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Tools for Formative Evaluation: Gathering the Information Tools for Formative Evaluation: Gathering the Information

Necessary for Program Improvement Necessary for Program Improvement

K. S. U. Jayaratne North Carolina State University, jay_jayaratne@ncsu.edu

Recommended Citation Recommended Citation Jayaratne, K. S. (2016). Tools for Formative Evaluation: Gathering the Information Necessary for Program Improvement. Journal of Extension, 54(1), Article 7. https://tigerprints.clemson.edu/joe/vol54/iss1/7

This Tools of the Trade is brought to you for free and open access by TigerPrints. It has been accepted for inclusion in Journal of Extension by an authorized editor of TigerPrints. For more information, please contact kokeefe@clemson.edu.



February 2016 Volume 54 Number 1 Article # 1TOT2 Tools of the Trade

Tools for Formative Evaluation: Gathering the Information Necessary for Program Improvement

Abstract New Extension educators experience a steep learning curve when attempting to develop effective Extension programs. Formative evaluation is helpful to new, and experienced, Extension educators in determining the changes necessary for making programs more effective. Formative evaluation is an essential part of program evaluation. However, its use has been overlooked by Extension educators due to overemphasis on outcomes evaluation for accountability. Extension educators must develop evaluation tools with questions appropriate for determining program weaknesses and strengths and identifying changes necessary for improvement. This article describes how to develop formative evaluation questions for program improvement.


Program accountability and improvement are two major functions of Extension evaluation. Program improvement is considered one of the most important tasks of evaluation. However, this function of evaluation has been overlooked by some Extension educators due to their overemphasis on accountability. This situation can be attributed to the increased demand for accountability in Extension services (Hachfeld, Bau, Holcomb, & Craig, 2013).

The program improvement function of evaluation is called formative evaluation (Scriven, 1991). The intent of formative evaluation is to “help form or shape the program to perform better” (Rossi, Lipsey, & Freeman, 2004, p. 34). As the name indicates, formative evaluation makes Extension educators more informed about the changes needed to improve their programs. Formative evaluation helps Extension educators determine what worked well and what went wrong in their educational programs. Also, formative evaluation helps Extension educators determine the changes

K. S. U. Jayaratne Associate Professor and State Leader for Program Evaluation Department of Agricultural and Extension Education North Carolina State University Raleigh, North Carolina jay_jayaratne@ncsu.e du



needed to further improve their programs.

Cooperative Extension services in the United States are experiencing more resource limitations (Monroe, McDonell, Hermansen-Báez, Long, & Zipperer, 2007) and are being forced to optimize their program effectiveness. Under current resource limitations, there is no room for programs to fail. For Extension educators operating under this demanding situation, it is critical to determine all necessary improvements at the pilot stage of programs and to make necessary changes before the next round of programming. This approach prevents potential program failures and increases the cost effectiveness of Extension.

Extension educators are having to develop more effective programs than ever before and should be prepared to better their programs continuously by determining needed improvements. This continuous improvement process contributes to the effectiveness of Extension programs and maximizes program outcomes and impacts. Also, this process contributes to improving the professional outlook of Extension educators and to achieving client satisfaction. The latter factor i

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