Assessment as Inquiry
by Ginette Delandshere — 2002
For more than 10 years now, arguments have been constructed regarding the need for new forms of educational assessment, and for a paradigm shift with a focus on supporting learning rather than on sorting and selecting students. The call for change in assessment follows an almost unanimous recognition of the limitations of current measurement theory and practice. The conceptions of learning represented by theories of learning and cognition appear strikingly different from those implied in current educational assessment and measurement practices. Indeed, most educational measurement specialists are still working from century-old understandings and behaviorist perspectives. Although the call for change is clear, the proposals and recommendations being put forward have limitations of their own and are unlikely to yield the kinds of fundamental changes envisioned by researchers. These limitations lie either in the focus of the work, in the lack of a clear articulation of the theories and concepts, in the nature of the assumptions made about learning (many of which remain implicit and unchanged), in the exclusion of certain conceptions of learning, or in some combination of these problems. This article explores the possibility of using inquiry as a way to understand, and hence to assess, learning. After an initial review of the assessment literature in which the need for change has been asserted and analysis of the theoretical and epistemological foundations that seem to undergird these writings, the focus shifts to the meaning of learning, knowing, and teaching implied in this literature and to the limitations of its recommendations. Later sections consider notions of learning that seem to be excluded from current assessment practices and begin to uncover similarities between learning, knowing, and inquiring that could make inquiry an appropriate metaphor for what we currently know as educational assessment. Finally, there is discussion of important issues that would need to be considered in an inquiry framework for assessment.
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