Curriculum Evaluation: Goal Based vs Goal Free

The process of curriculum evaluation can be implemented by a variety of stakeholders, occurring on many levels, and for many purposes. Evaluators are individuals, organizations, communities or governments and the aim of their evaluation can include maintaining, developing or modifying a current or historical program, policy, practice, field of study or course of study for internal or external purposes. All levels of curriculum, including intended, implemented and written, can be evaluated. Internal evaluation is done by agents within the system and the results are used for those who are in that particular system. External evaluations, on the other hand, are undertaken outside of the educational system, for instance by universities conducting research or by special task forces. Additionally, curriculum evaluation can be either formative or summative. The purpose of the evaluation (accountability, development or knowledge) impacts the method or model used. Curriculum evaluation uses description, analysis and judgement to assess the merit, value and worth of the curriculum being examined (Glatthorn, Boschee, Whitehead & Boschee, 2012; Klenowski, 2010; United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], n.d.). All of these components and purposes are taken into account during the process of evaluation.

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Models of curriculum evaluation have developed over time and have reflected the climate and values of the times they were developed. For the purposes of this article, goal based and goal free evaluation will be examined through Ralph Tyler’s objective oriented approach and Michael Scriven’s goal free evaluative approach.

Ralph Tyler’s objective oriented approach is a systematic and rational approach to curriculum evaluation that moves through several steps to determine if a curriculum plan has achieved its goals. The focus is not on whether the individual learner has met goals, but whether the program has established it specific goals. In Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (1949), Tyler explained three points from which to draw objectives: student interests, contemporary issues, and subject specialization. These objectives are further filtered through the lens of school philosophy and the psychology of learning. Once these objectives for student learning and behavior have been established, the curriculum developer identifies the situations that will given students the opportunity to show they have learned the objectives. Next, credible, valid and objective evaluations must be developed, adapted or constructed. Once they have implemented, the data is summarized and analyzed. The pre- and post-test data is used to measure the amount of change that has occurred. This data is used to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum and then make necessary changes to its implementation (Glatthorn, et al., 2012). In short, there must be clear, specific and measurable goals present before curriculum can be created, implemented and evaluated. The evaluation process, ultimately, determines if the program has obtained the goals it set out from the start. While the process seems direct and simple enough, concentrating solely on the input and output of students, it facilitates a “teaching to the test” mentality and requires no evaluation of the quality of objectives (Klenowski, 2010; Patton, 2005). This process of evaluation seems to be used best at the summative level, identifying whether the goals are met for a unit, program, policy, field of study or course of study. This type of analysis would be suited well for accountability purposes, to determine quantitatively if a particular implemented curriculum has achieved its goals. Goal based evaluation can be used to develop a program by taking action on the results of the evaluation data to modify or maintain a curriculum. This type of evaluation can be done internally, by teachers, administrators and districts, to evaluate the implemented curriculum of classes, fields and courses. It can also be done externally, to see study the effectiveness of an implemented curriculum.

On the other hand, goal free evaluation, popularized by Michael Scriven as a formative and summative evaluation process, advocates “gathering data on a broad array of actual effects and evaluating the importance of these effects in meeting demonstrated needs” (Patton, 2005, p. 142). These need based evaluations stand in contrast to the goal based evaluations, because they judge the merit or worth of the goals and whether these goals meet the needs of the student learner (Glatthorn, et al., 2012; Klenowski, 2010). Scriven’s criticism of goal based evaluation is four fold. One is that the goals create a tunnel vision that prohibits the evaluator from seeing the positive and negative side effects of a curriculum. Another criticism addresses the idea that stated goals (normally unrealistic from the onset) are rarely the same as the attained goals, and by removing the goal focus, the external evaluator can focus on the actual effects of a curriculum and the evaluation is unaffected by the shifting goals. Third, not only are the stated goals often unrealistic, they are not always what those implementing actually care about or work towards achieving. Lastly, this process eliminates the necessity for an evaluator to clarify goals that are vague, unclear and immeasurable and instead focus on the outcomes of the program (Patton, 2005; Scriven, 1991). Scriven does not imagine a scenario, though, where goal free evaluation works alone. Instead, he pairs it with a quantitative, goal based evaluation completed by an internal evaluator while an external evaluator focuses on the qualitative, goal free portion. This reduces overlap in assessment of a program and frees the external evaluator to assess without bias if the needs of students are being met (Patton, 2005). Goal free evaluation, then, seems to serve the purpose of gaining knowledge and developing, maintaining or modifying an implemented curriculum to meet the needs of the learner through an evaluation of side effects.


Glatthorn, A.A., Boschee, F., Whitehead, B.M., & Boschee, B.F. (2012). Curriculum evaluation. In Curriculum Leadership (pp. 356-381). London, UK: Sage Publications, Inc.

Klenowski, V. (2010). Curriculum evaluation: Approaches and methodologies. In T. Levin (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Education (pp. 335-341). Oxford, UK: Elsevier Ltd.

Patton, M.Q. (2005). Goal-based vs. goal-free evaluation. In Encyclopedia of Social Measurement (pp. 141-144). Oxford, UK: Elsevier Ltd.

Scriven, M. (1991). Prose and cons about goal-free evaluation. Evaluation Practice, 12(1), 55-76. Retrieved from

Tyler, R. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (n.d.). Curriculum Evaluation and Student Assessment. Retrieved from


7 thoughts on “Curriculum Evaluation: Goal Based vs Goal Free

  1. Teresa,
    Your introduction got me thinking about the different types of evaluators and I think I looked at it through the eyes of only internal evaluators. I didn’t even think about the external evaluations that look at curriculum across the board. I chose two different models to look closely at, but I have enjoyed reading more about Tyler’s objective oriented approach. I find that model to be easily understood now and I like how there are steps to determine if the curriculum plan has achieved the desired goal. I had been focusing on the individual learner and wasn’t thinking about the program as a whole. Do you believe that there should be different methods involved with curriculum evaluation or do you think one method can achieve what it needs to achieve? I felt like bits and pieces could come from each model to achieve the desired outcome from evaluators. This whole process is new to me and it was interesting to learn more about your take on it from your blog.


  2. Excellent summary and reflection Teresa. You captured the essence of the articles and points discussed and sketched out a great analysis. Interesting commentaries from all sides. How do you think these align with our discussions around UDL and UbD? (APA Hint: In-text citations are always listed in alphabetical order and article titles are always upper/lower case). Nice job, great visual, excellent reflection!


  3. Teresa,

    I like your angle of approaching this from a goal-based vs. goal-free evaluation system. I commented on Jenna’s blog, and I think this is true to yours too, that there seems to be a trade-off in many of the goal-based vs. goal-free approaches. Many of the goal-based evaluation models seem to be more systematic, with clearer steps for evaluating curriculum. What you lose with these models seems to be a more holistic approach in curriculum evaluation dealing with more factors, in the goal-free approach. The drawback, in my opinion, to these approaches, is less clarity for implementation.


  4. Teresa,

    I side with you in that there should be clear goals for curriculum implementation. I quote your thoughts, “in short, there must be clear, specific and measurable goals present before curriculum can be created, implemented and evaluated”. I agree. Many times I feel that curriculum programs are implemented without clear expectations of what the specific outcome should look like, we are just treading water, hoping that our efforts will show academic improvement. Curriculum is rarely modified to fit the learner but instead implemented for an academic year, then phased out with a newer curriculum, never to be referred to again. We are doing a disservice by not following through with what we implement, or even following through to note that it is effective.


  5. Teresa,

    I too agree that curriculum goals must be clear and measurable goals must be present prior the curriculum being created. I feel like having a clear vision and purpose allows teachers to understand where they should be going with their curriculum and what their students should be learning as a result. Without this vision and purpose, it is almost as if teachers are walking aimlessly with no end in sight. Providing teachers with clear and specific goals, they have something to shoot and a goal to obtain. Secondly, the point of the goals being measurable is a critical piece to curriculum implementation. Teachers, Administrators and other stakeholders need to have something in place to evaluate the progress of the curriculum that is being implemented. By including clear and measurable goals, the evaluation of curriculum can take place but also improvements and changes can be made in order to ensure the curriculum is helping teachers provide high quality educational services for our students.


  6. Teresa,

    Great post as usual. I really loved reading your comparison. It opened my eyes when you talked about Tyler’s objective based model really shows us how it is important to set those goals. Lacking those clear ideas in our minds and our student’s minds, but we need to mold it to fit the learner’s mind and not just state them. I like how there are a set number of steps to Tyler’s model show if the curriculum is achieved. Do you think that you do this in your classroom? Do you think it is an effective way to measure our teaching? I think in Scriven’s model definitely has that “tunnel vision” perspective where the ultimate goals aren’t realistic.


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