Educational assessment at schools and universities should be seen as a means through which teaching and learning can unfold and not just as something to test learners and students.
This is one of the key arguments in a new book by Dr Nuraan Davids and Prof Yusef Waghid of the Department of Education Policy Studies in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University.
Their book Education, Assessment, and the Desire for Dissonance was published recently by Peter Lang.
Comprising 10 chapters, the book covers themes such as the failure of governmental strategies for educational assessment; the power dimensions of pedagogic relations and assessment practices; the use of measurements and metrics in South African forms of assessment; and deliberative assessment encounters.
The book looks at educational assessment practices in schools and universities broadly, while also drawing from South African experiences.
The authors say they wrote the book because they were concerned about South African schools and universities' complacency and non-responsiveness to conceptions and practices of assessment.
They argue that inasmuch as attempts have been made to move away from measurement and metrics, assessment in South Africa remains mostly connected to control and predictability, as commonly encountered in international trends in assessment.
"Assessment is overwhelmingly seen as something that has to be done in addition to teaching and learning. Such an understanding creates the impression that teaching and learning do not have an internal connection to assessment," says Davids.
"Educational assessment is constitutive of teaching and learning and not an add-on practice (a non-governmental practice), as is currently the case with assessment practices in South Africa."
They say they are concerned about school, university, and societal understandings that assessment can somehow be used to address learner or student performance, while simultaneously being used as a motivation for learning.
"Unless assessment yields the necessary information to improve teaching and learning, and unless teachers know how to analyse and apply this information, assessment, as we see in the Annual National Assessment or the National Senior Certificate, adds no value."
They argue that dissonance could be a way out of the quagmire of standardised "testing" measures that not only inhibit the pursuit of creativity, talent, and passions, but also make pedagogic encounters a bit superficial and parochial.
According to the authors, educational assessment aimed at improving teaching and learning can be successful if it also incorporates the idea that a learner or student should not necessarily accept a teacher's particular assessment of his or her work.
"The student has to be allowed to disagree with the teacher (show dissonance/disagreement) – but, of course, has to show reasonable justification for doing so. In the same way, teachers cannot simply retreat into their rooms and assign marks/assessments to students without engaging with them."
"We contend that dissonance in educational assessment offers an alternative to assessment practices that currently constrain the autonomy of students and of teachers."
"If teaching is understood as directing students towards the unfamiliar and yet-to-be-understood, then assessment needs to offer the potentiality for a questioning of the unfamiliar and the yet-to-be-understood."
The authors say they recognise that assessment is a complex and demanding encounter and that it means different things, teachers, learners or students.
"Because assessment is complex and demanding, it is something that people should do together. We would aver that educational assessment ought to be advanced by a desire to do things differently."
In this regards they propose an assessment within teaching as opposed to assessment of learning and an assessment for learning.
"Assessment within teaching and learning places the onus on both teachers and learners or students to consider the practice as something done in association with others. Such a view is different from the traditional ones that prejudice doing things for others. This would mean that assessment ought to be considered as an encounter."
The authors add that this type of assessment implies that teachers and students are present in pedagogical relationships that produce meanings and operations that are carried out in their own presence.
"Teachers and students are, or have the potential to be pedagogical equals."
The authors say their book may appeal to academics, educational practitioners, policy analysts, students, and teachers.
- Education, Assessment, and the Desire for Dissonance is available at www.peterlang.com as well as leading online bookstores.
Photo: Dr Nuraan Davids and Prof Yusef Waghid with a copy of their new book.