Social Epistemology And The Pragmatics Of Assessment

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Teachers College Record


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 reexamination 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.