Structural nonlinear behavior is allowed during strong earthquakes according to the ductility-based structural design, which relates to the earthquake-induced structural damages. From the viewpoint of physics and mechanics, the peak effect and cumulative effect of seismic damage are comprehensively considered in numerical modeling and performance assessment of structural behaviors. However, the application of classical Park-Ang damage model for large-scale existing structures, which is mostly used in seismic studies, may be relatively limited due to the lack of prior knowledge (such as the hysteretic energy dissipation, the yielding force and the ultimate displacement capacity). Inspired by the model reference concept in the field of control study, a data-driven damage evaluation model is proposed in this paper to quantify both the peak and cumulative damage effects, which may be used for different deformation modes. A full-scale reinforced concrete (RC) column subjected to shake table test from the NEES Database is utilized to investigate the correlation between the development of damage and the proposed damage model and the tracking performance in the time-domain. The new damage evaluation index is proved to be able to distinguish the difference in damage development between the shear and flexural deformation of RC column. Generally, the proposed damage index, adopting the model reference concept, may not require structural hysteresis characteristics and the calculation of dissipated energy, and can be applied to practical seismic evaluation.