AERA Past President Michael Scriven Dies at 95
AERA Past President Michael Scriven Dies at 95

August 2023

AERA Past President Michael Scriven died on August 28 at the age of 95. Scriven, a Distinguished Professor in the Division of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences at Claremont Graduate University (CGU), served as AERA president in 1978–79.

An AERA Fellow, Scriven was a foundational leader and innovator in the field of evaluation. Over his career, he taught in departments of mathematics, philosophy, psychology, history and philosophy of science, law, evaluation, and education.

“We are saddened to learn of Dr. Scriven’s passing,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “He lived a full life that shaped many forms of thought in our field. While he served in AERA’s leadership over 40 years ago, his influence on the organization and subsequent generations of researchers reverberates today.”

Scriven was born in the United Kingdom and grew up in Australia. Over his career, he taught at institutions in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. He wrote or co-authored more than a dozen books and produced more than 450 publications across a broad range of topics, including evaluation, critical thinking, technology studies, and computer studies. He served on the editorial boards of 42 journals. Scriven earned a BA in mathematics and an MA in the philosophy of mathematical logic at the University of Melborne, and a PhD in philosophy at Oxford University.

Scriven’s Presidential Address, delivered at the 1979 AERA Annual Meeting, was titled “Self-Referent Research.” It examined not only “the state of our research on educational research, but also . . . on research dealing with vehicles of educational research, for example, the printed word, the machinery for its processing and production, and the journals which select and package it.”

A remembrance from CGU described Scriven as a “Renaissance man . . . [who] met with Albert Einstein, debated ideas with leading intellectuals, designed and oversaw construction of his house, researched parapsychology, and was a connoisseur of art and music.”

Highlights asked several AERA past presidents for brief comments on Scriven and his legacy. Their responses follow.   

“Michael Scriven was a brilliant man whose contributions to evaluation were central to the field, in particular, goal-free evaluation. His philosophical writings were extensive, and he was an early analyst of the potential impact of technology. His expertise was wide and unexpected, extending to arcane details of naval architecture and to effects of labor action in Italian race car factories. He asked penetrating, formidable questions, but modeled fairness and generosity. Our field has lost a huge presence.”—2006–07 AERA President Eva Baker, Distinguished Research Professor, University of California, Los Angeles  

“Michael possessed a broad range of knowledge and brought one of the finest and most creative minds we have ever known to the educational issues of our times.”—AERA 1985–86 AERA President David C. Berliner, Regents’ Professor of Education Emeritus, Arizona State University

“Professor Scriven was a giant of educational research and scholarship, especially concerning evaluation studies. He brought the essential idea of evaluation to the front of educational research concerns, influencing a generation of scholars. He was a hugely productive polymath whose seminal contributions spanned education, philosophy, and psychology with enormous influence both theoretical and applied.”—1980–81 AERA President Frank Farley, Professor Emeritus, Temple University

“Michael thought big, about both educational research and its implications. When the rest of the world had a narrow view of evaluation, he conceived of assessment in terms of what it meant, and to whom—and this changed the field. At least as important, he was funny! I’d actually look forward to meetings if he would be part of them.”—1998–99 AERA President Alan H. Schoenfeld, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Berkeley

“Michael Scriven’s insights as a philosopher profoundly reshaped and expanded the thinking of scholars in the early years of program evaluation, especially his distinction between formative and summative purposes for evaluation and his ‘goal free’ evaluation, which asked not just whether goals were met but whether the goals themselves were admirable and worthwhile.” –1999–2000 AERA President Lorrie A. Shepard, University Distinguished Professor, University of Colorado Boulder

“Michael Scriven’s scholarship informed the design of tools and approaches to evaluation that created a window for us see and to better understand the impact of social policy and education-related policy and practice. His contributions are durable and timeless. He dedicated his professional life to building the field of evaluation studies. We are better for his efforts.”—2007–08 AERA President William F. Tate, President, Louisiana State University

In addition to his service to AERA, Scriven was a former president of the American Evaluation Association (AEA). He was also an AEA fellow and received the association’s Lazarsfeld Award for his contributions to evaluation theory.