Evaluation is a key component of teaching and learning. How we approach evaluation, however, can influence how well our students learn and, by extension, whether our teaching can be judged a success.
As Christians, we take the Word of God as foundational in our lives. Might Scripture also point us toward an effective approach to evaluation? We will consider three cases, of perhaps many, that can provide guidance for our work as Christian educators.
The Bible begins by affirming that God is involved in assessment. At the end of each creation day, God considered His work and determined “that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). Then, once He had created human beings in the divine image, He pronounced the entire creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Later, however, after sin came into the world, God “looked upon the earth” and appraised it as “corrupt” and “filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11-12). Fundamentally, evaluation affirms what is good and right, while it seeks to redirect that which is deficient and unacceptable.
In one of His teaching sessions, the parable of the talents, Jesus spoke of persons who received differing resources, “each according to his own ability” (Matthew 25:14-30). After a time, these individuals were to render an account of their activities. Based on what they presented, coupled with their explanation, the results were assessed with either a positive or negative outcome.
While we tend to focus perhaps on the “lazy servant” who did nothing to increase what he had been given, we should also consider the second servant, who gained two talents. Although the results he presented were fewer than those of the servant who gained five talents, the second servant received the same rating, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
While God expects tangible results, it seems that He does not expect everyone to bring the same results. Furthermore, God does not simply compare results; He personalizes assessment. He expects outcomes “according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
In the last book of Scripture, we find Christ evaluating the seven churches (Revelation 2-3). In almost every case, Jesus provided a commendation and a recommendation, what they are doing well and that wherein they needed to improve.
- “You have persevered… and have not become weary. Nevertheless, … you have left your first love” (2:3-4).
- “You held fast to My name and did not deny My faith…. But I have a few things against you, because you have those who hold the doctrine of Balaam” (2:13-14).
- “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience…. Nevertheless, … you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants” (2:19-20)
After providing this assessment, Christ gave them a set of actions to address their deficiencies: “Do the works you did at first” (2:5). “Hold fast what you have” (2:25). “Wake up” (3:3). “Buy white garments… and ointment for your eyes” (3:18). Finally, in each case, He pointed to the benefit of achieving the outcomes.
We should note that Christ did not attempt to make each learner in the seven churches conform to the same template. Rather, He assessed them individually and prescribed remedial actions particularly suited to their circumstances. He wanted each to learn and to grow—to be the best that they could be.