Expertise versus Responsiveness in Children's Worlds: Politics in School, Home and Community Relationships

By Maureen McClure; Jane Clark Lindle | Go to book overview

POLITICS OF EDUCATION ASSOCIATION YEARBOOK, 1996, 89-99


11.

The emerging politics of assessment alternatives: professional revolution versus public values

Jean Treiman
California Lutheran University

Mahna Schwager
WestEd

During the last two decades school professionals throughout the USA have participated in hundreds of 'bully' reform efforts. Many efforts, such as Clinton's Goals 2000 Program, are viewed by professional experts as external or lay efforts at school reform. Professionals often downplay the value and legitimacy of these reforms and see public attempts at school reform as naive, unrealistic, or inspired by the base moral instincts of political self-interest. Emerging from a complex mixture of school reform platforms, the energetic arguments over authentic and alternative assessment began between professionals whom we identify as 'assessment revolutionaries' and those representing the 'testing establishment.' However, since then, with assessment initiatives now implemented in many states, the public is awakening both to the problems and the promises of new forms of student assessment. At this point, considerable distance exists between what the public sector wants and what professional revolutionaries advocate concerning assessment reforms.

The terms altemative assessment and authentic assessment are used interchangeably, but do not mean the same thing. Typically, the idea of authentic assessment is that human knowledge is created in human activity. These activities are necessary to solve real-life problems within a local or community context. Designers of authentic assessments create tasks that confront children with open-ended realistic problems. While solving these problems, children show how they construct meaning and apply knowledge in a particular setting to achieve results. On the other hand, the idea of alternative assessment suggests that human learning is complex and knowledge is multidimensional in the forms it takes. Professionals need different forms of assessment to represent the complexity of human learning. Advocates suggest that alterna-tive measures of student attainment which legitimize multiple modes of assessment will be more respectful of human diversity, give a more accurate picture of student skills and abilities, and provide alternatives to standardized measures of student attainment.

For many professionals, the press toward authentic and alternative assessment is a bold and necessary school initiative. Since the progressive reforms of the 1960s, no school reform has focused more centrally on the nature of the teaching and learning process, nor has any restructuring initiative held more tenaciously to the importance of increased teacher capacity to increase student outcomes. Taken at face value, the

0268-0939/97 $12 · 00 © 1997 Taylor & Francis Ltd.

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