“Mom,” Jamie started. “I’ve got a question for you. Why does that man on the news keep saying that Mexico is a bad place?”
“Just because somebody says something like that doesn’t mean they are right. You have to evaluate what they are saying.”
“And how do I do that? I don’t know what evaluating means.”
“It means you must ask them to show you proof for what they are saying. What are their facts? Then you balance those facts against facts from the other side. When you look at both sides and think about the facts, you are evaluating. So what facts do you know about Mexico that would give you a different side?”

Evaluation is the complex mental act of placing a value on the nature, character, or quality of a person, object, event, concept, theory, or practice. It is a judgment, a weighing of the value. Evaluating is critiquing an essay, scoring a math test, judging a contest, appraising a project, assigning a grade, or determining worth.
It sounds so simple and straightforward, yet evaluation is a complicated process that, at best, involves making an assessment against a set of given criteria and assigning a value based on how well the object or action measures up. Evaluation is the final stop in the critical thinking process, although it may also be necessary throughout the process as it calls on analysis and synthesis, comparison and contrast to help determine the end’s worth.
This table provides examples of what evaluation might look like and sound like in the classroom.
Looks Like
Sounds Like
Students peer editing written work.

Students critiquing a presentation with a checklist.

Students holding scores up, using a scale of one through ten.
“That’s an A paper.”

“A flawless paper! Nothing to edit.”

“I like the precision of the work.”

“Here is my evidence.”

“Judging the winner was difficult because…”

Evaluation is a thought process that students and adults are required to exercise over and over on a daily basis. How skillfully the process is employed determines how well problems are solved. In this information-laden world, every citizen is faced with the challenge of hearing diverse ideas, theories, and opinions and making sound judgments regarding whether the information they are receiving is valid and reliable. Are the facts straight? Is there bias hidden in the writer’s or the newscaster’s point of view? How trustworthy are the sources?
The strongest rationale for building the skill of evaluation may be its value outside the classroom, when students must assess misinformation that can bring harm. However, that position would unfairly limit the value of evaluation in schoolwork, family life, and careers. Every time a problem arises in an individual’s life, that person must use evaluation skills to solve the problem. Some decisions are light and easily managed like, “What do we eat for dinner tonight?” Other evaluations help resolve more serious problems. Should I look for a new position more in line with my skills and preferences? Should I ask her to marry me? Should we have a third child? How am I going to care for my aging parents?
In school settings, both simple and complex problems require evaluation and judgment. Simple problems involve finding the conflict in a novel or replicating an experiment in the lab. More complexity is involved when selecting the best strategy for evaluating a persuasive speech. In all instances, however, evaluation is a prime skill to master in pursuit of critical thinking and in responding to many of the Common Core State Standards.

Bellanca, J. A., Fogarty, R. J., & Pete, B. M. (2012). How to teach thinking skills within the common core: 7 key proficiencies of the new national standards. (pp. 23-24). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.