Assessment and Identity Gordon Stobart Institute of Education University of London The power of assessment Unspeakably more depends on what things are called than on what they are … creating new names and assessments and apparent truths is enough to create new ‘things’. (Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887) The individual in contemporary society is not so much described by tests as constructed by them. (Allan Hanson, 1994) Assumptions Assessment is a value-laden social activity, and there is no such thing as ‘culture-free’ assessment. Assessment does not objectively measure what is already there, but rather creates and shapes what is measured – it is capable of ‘making up people’. Assessment impacts directly on what and how we learn, and can undermine or encourage effective learning. Creating learners: the case of Hannah HANNAH: I’m really scared about the SATs. Mrs O’Brien [a teacher at the school] came in and talked to us about our spelling and I’m no good at spelling and David [the class teacher] is giving us times tables tests every morning and I’m hopeless at times tables so I’m frightened I’ll do the SATS and I’ll be a nothing. DIANE: I don’t understand, Hannah. You can’t be a nothing. HANNAH: Yes, you can ’cos you have to get a level like a level 4 or level 5 and if you’re no good at spellings and times tables you don’t get those levels and so you’re a nothing. DIANE: I’m sure that’s not right. HANNAH: Yes it is ’cos that’s what Mrs O’Brien was saying. (Reay and Wiliam, 1999, p. 345) Creating learners: the case of Ruth Learning the formula for each exam and practising it endlessly. I got an A1 in English because I knew exactly what was required in each question. I learned off the sample answers provided by the examiners and I knew how much information was required and in what format in every section of the paper. That’s how you do well in these examinations… There’s no point in knowing about stuff that is not going to come up in the exams. I was always frustrated by teachers who would say ‘You don’t need to know this for the exams but I’ll tell you anyway’. I wanted my A1 – what’s the point of learning material that won’t come up in the exams? Making up people ‘sometimes our sciences create kinds of people that in a sense did not exist before. This is making up people’ (Hacking, 2006) The example of Multiple Personality Disorder (now the Dissociative Identity Disorder), 1 Classification. This behaviour was quickly associated with a ‘disorder’. 2 The people. These are the unhappy/inadequate individuals who will express this identity (or fortunate individuals in the case of ‘genius’). 3 The institutions. Clinics, training programmes and international conferences address the disorder. 4 Knowledge. from the institutions and from popular knowledge. 5 Experts. These generate the knowledge, judge its validity and use it in practice. Hacking’s ten engines of discovery 1. Count, 2. Quantify, 3. CreateNorms, 4. Correlate, 5. Medicalise, 6. Biologise, 7. Geneticise, 8. Normalise, 9. Bureaucratise, 10. Reclaim our identity The case of IQ testing 1. Count, - scores (Binet, Galton) 2. Quantify, normal distribution curve (Galton) 3. Create Norms, (Mental Age; 100, SD 15) 4. Correlate, with success (Spearman) 5. Medicalise, (terminology – imbecile, moron etc) 6. Biologise, location (energy/complexity/reaction) 7. Geneticise innate and fixed (Burt) 8. Normalise, tripartite education (Burt) 9. Bureaucratise, 11+ 10. Reclaim our identity comprehensive movement? (NI) The problem with ability... • [ability] acts as an unrecognised version of ‘intelligence’ and ‘IQ’. If we were to substitute ‘IQ’ for ‘ability’ many alarm bells would ring that currently remain silent because ‘ability’ acts as an untainted yet powerful reconstitution of all the beliefs previously wrapped up terms such as intelligence. (Gillborn and Udell, 2001,p.81) • ability labelling “exerts an active, powerful force within school and classroom processes, helping to create the very disparities of achievement that it purports to explain” (Hart et al., 2004, p.21) Other examples of creating learners 1. Multiple and Emotional Intelligences 2. Learning Styles: VAKT, Deep, Surface and Strategic learners Construct issues – validity and naming Assessment issues – unreliability & overinterpretation Reclaiming assessment • Step 1: limit assessment ambitions, focus on achievement • Step 2: interpret results more cautiously • Step 3: acknowledge the context • Step 4: recognise the importance of interaction • Step 5: create sustainable assessment: Boud’s double duty of assessment ‘any assessment act must also contribute in some way to learning beyond the immediate task … assessment that meets the needs of the present and prepares students to meet their own future needs’ Becoming responsible for who we are ‘A theory of education has to spell out how children take on responsibilities for learning and how one, whether teacher or learner, goes about judging whether those responsibilities have been met. … Teachers are notoriously disposed to explain children’s success in terms of putative abilities and learning styles rather than on the conditions that make learning easy or difficult’. ‘agency, intentionality and responsibility could become the central features of a psychology that has special relevance for education. Abilities, traits and dispositions can be left to find a new place in the natural sciences or else relegated to the dust-bin of history’ (Olson, 2006, p. 43).