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Social Epistemology and the Pragmatics of Assessment


by Kenneth J. Gergen & Ezekiel J. Dixon-Román — 2014

Background/Context: The assessment of students, along with teachers and school systems, has largely taken place within a context of positivist science. An enormous range of scholarship now challenges the positivist paradigm, offering a social espistemological alternative. This alternative invites a re-examination of assessment processes and their policy implications.

Purpose/Objective:After sketching out the social constructionist alternative to positivist epistemology, the research centered on the pragmatics of existing assessment practices, including an analysis of who is helped or harmed but such practices.

Setting:The research included extended across a wide range of contemporary educational settings.

Research Design:The research was primarily analytic, drawing from wide-ranging sources in education and allied disciplines.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Among the general outcomes of current assessment practices are the fostering of social division and distrust, the creation of hierarchies of worth, and the diminution of pluralism. Within educational systems we find a sacrifice of curriculum and pedagogy for the production of higher test scores, and the diminution of teacher motivation and engagement. Within communities, there is a disregard for local needs and values, a loss in student motivation, and an increase in family tensions. Possible alternatives to current testing practices, along with recommendations for future policies, are considered.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 11, 2014, p. 1-22
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17625, Date Accessed: 10/17/2017 5:52:35 AM

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About the Author
  • Kenneth Gergen
    Swarthmore College
    E-mail Author
    KENNETH GERGEN is a Senior Research Professor at Swarthmore College, and the President of the Taos Institute, a non-profit organization linking social constructionist theory to societal practices. His theoretical work centers on relational process, and its applications to research, forms of scholarship, and practices of education, organizational development, and mental health. His most recent works include Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community, and Playing with Purpose: Adventures in Performative Social Science (with Mary Gergen).
  • Ezekiel Dixon-Román
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    EZEKIEL J. DIXON-ROMÁN is an Assistant Professor of Social Policy and Education in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. His research is on the intersections of the sociology of education, cultural studies, and quantitative methods. In addition to his edited volume, Thinking Comprehensively About Education (with Edmund W. Gordon, Routledge, 2012), he is completing a single-authored volume tentatively titled Inheriting [Im]Possibility.
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