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"Authentic" Assessment, Grades, and Standards

Posted By: Duane Swacker on April 18, 2003
 
It is interesting to read the posts concerning various assessment practices and what constitutes "good" assessment practice. The posts focus on techniques/practices that educators use in assessing student performance. Many of the terms used need further definition/clarification. Also, I believe, that we as educators should understand the historical, social, and cultural roots of the terms and practices-discourse. Critical enquiry into assessment discourse is needed.

For example: Why do we have grades? When and how (what were the social conditions that allowed) did they come to be common educational practices? What are the underlying assumptions regarding assessment? What in the world does "authentic" mean? What are the underlying assumptions about learning that each educator brings to the table in attempting to assess student learning? For that matter, what constitutes "learning"? These are just some of the thorny questions that might prick the brain of some educators.

Notice, I used the qualifiers might and some, because, it has been my experience that many if not most educators do not question the status quo in their assessment practices. They are ignorant of the falsehoods contained in and consequences of current assessment practices. They believe that we can quantify quality, that education can be scientized rather than being viewed as an art. This is not meant to be a condemnation of those educators but a statement on how entrenched our current practices are as educators themselves have been trained in the "science" of assessment.

What is a "standard"? How does one measure that standard? What are the errors in measuring the standard? (And in education those errors can result in unfair inequalities of opportunity for x number of students.) What are the epistemological assumptions underlying the concept of standards in education?

A good starting point in examing these issues is Noel Wilson's work "Standards and the Problem of Error" which can be found in the Education Policy Anaylsis Archives-epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v6n10. (This is an excellent website for many education issues/concerns-my editorial comment.) Wilson considers problems with mixing the four frames of reference in assessment, identifies 13 sources of error in actual assessment, and discusses these in relation to the effects on the individual. By showing that some of the "truths" of assessment are falsifiable Wilson shows that the status quo in current practice is inherently unfair and does violence-in the broad sense-to many individuals by limiting their future educational options.

I do not have the answers for many of the questions I have posed. I'm not sure that there are any pat answers. I do believe that we as educators to have the responsibility to look into these questions and adjust our own assessment practices-as much as we can within the framework of our employment. I can attest to the virulence of action-letters of reprimand, threats of job loss-directied against those who raise these questions to those in authority who believe in the status quo. Power does not necesarily make right but it does make for might.

I look forward to any comments and responses to this post.

Take care,
Duane E. Swacker
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 "Authentic" Assessment, Grades, and Standards by Duane Swacker on April 18, 2003
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