Assessment: Social Practice and Social Product

Assessment: Social Practice and Social Product

Assessment: Social Practice and Social Product

Assessment: Social Practice and Social Product

Synopsis

This text goes beyond the obvious functions of assessment, and focuses upon the roles it performs in the social structuring of society. It examines the myths and assumptions that underpin assessment and testing by drawing attention to cultural context.

Excerpt

Patricia Broadfoot

Culture, discourse, identity and power: these are the buzzwords of postmodernism. They relate to a view of the world which recognizes no ultimate reality except that of subjectivity, no ultimate good except that which is culturally determined, no common values except that of valuing differences. If postmodernism has done nothing else, it has served to remind us of the limitations of science and its quest for control of the natural world. It has revived our collective awareness of the social and the part it plays in initiating, evaluating, deploying, inhibiting or applying the results of such endeavours. It has reminded us that if there is any constant in the social world, it is power, the pursuit and exercise of which in its myriad different forms underpins the fabric of society and the stability of its institutions.

Not the least important among these institutions is the multi-million pound, international industry of educational assessment and testing. Like colonialism before it, the activities associated with educational assessment and testing have steadily advanced during the twentieth century to a point where, at the present time, there can be no country and no mainstream school that is not subject to its sway nor any pupils, teachers or families who do not accept its importance. It is a remarkable conquest. From its modest beginnings in the universities of the eighteenth century and the school systems of the nineteenth century, educational assessment has developed rapidly to become the unquestioned arbitrator of value, whether of pupils’ achievements, institutional quality or national educational competitiveness.

Equally remarkable has been the lack of any serious challenge to this hegemony. Despite sustained and at times impassioned debates about either the technical limitations of testing or its harmful impact on the curriculum, such concerns have been but glancing blows. They have provided no serious opposition to the apparently inexorable advance of assessment into every aspect of educational activity. It is a unique story, and one for which an explicit explanation is more than overdue.

Of more urgent concern, however, is the absence to date of a sustained scholarly attempt to determine the significance of this dominance. What are the consequences—social, educational and economic—of the contemporary world dominance of educational assessment? What price has been paid to achieve apparent transparency and equity in the judgement of relative merit? We do

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