Assessment for Social Justice

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Assessment for Social Justice: i-LEAD Discussion article

The continued use of numerical assessment grading relies on the assumption that the judgements made about our students’ work are fair, equitable, objective and just. There is however a very large amount of research data to suggest that this is not the case. Given that assessing students’ work is not scientifically measurable, HE assessment processes have been moving towards criteria-based grading in an attempt to mitigate the subjective practices of assessment (Sadler 2005).

In practice this has resulted in what Sen (2010) argues is a tension between proper procedures and ‘lived realities’. Are we creating a culture in which assessment procedures are highlighted and
enforced at the at the expense of learning outcomes? Or in assessment terms, creating clear, unambiguous, neutral conditions and procedures for assessment must naturally lead to fair assessments?

Jan McArthur’s thoughtful and challenging paper on assessment for social justice (2015) discusses many themes regarding ‘Fairness’ and ‘Just’ assessment focusing on the distinction between procedural and outcome processes for social justice. She also argues that a procedural approach to social justice is important in order to ensure fair and equitable processes but that these do not in themselves result in fair and equitable outcomes.

Building on this distinction we can identify ‘best practice’ assessment processes and grading systems to ensure consistency and equity of student experience but this happens within a specific system and a specific society. It could be argued that any educational system is intrinsically biased towards a set of values and beliefs that reflect a society’s dominant ideology (Fraser and Honneth 2003) and therefore those students who are most comfortable and familiar with that ideology may therefore be expected to do better in a system that embeds and embodies it. A similar argument has often been used to critique the notion of I.Q tests and what constitutes ‘general knowledge’ (Jensen 1980).

For assessments to be truly fair and/or equitable they need to go beyond a set of coherent and ‘sameness’ procedures to explore the lived realities of our students in order to ensure our assessment design and grading systems actively address ways to reduce injustice and advance justice through more flexibility and less culture-bound criteria.

Discussion Question:

To what extent have these values and beliefs consciously or subconsciously manifested themselves into our values and thus fed into our curriculum and the assessment process and therefore student outcomes?


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