AEA 2016 : 17th annual meeting of the Association for Educational Assessment – Europe
Call For Papers
Social and Political underpinnings of educational assessment: Past, present and future
Educational assessment policies and programmes develop within particular historical, political, economic and social contexts. They are often closely tied and driven by government educational/vocational reform agendas within countries. Some of these in-country reforms are driven by internal factors as well as cross-country comparisons of assessment outcomes and/or approaches. The wide range of national and international educational assessments must therefore be viewed as complex socio-political phenomena. To analyse and comprehend how assessment programmes and policies evolve, it is important to reflect on how each assessment is shaped and transformed by social and political agents interacting at the national and international level.
Policy makers and politicians are often influenced by powerful social forces, driven by ideological debates, social theories, and market and industry requirements, as well as influential stakeholders such as the testing industry and teacher unions. Historical and pragmatic considerations, such as the need for functional and easy-to-explain high-stakes assessments to allocate scarce resources, often influence how and on what students are assessed. Consequently, assessment is often used as an instrument for public management of policy, framed within a general rhetoric of the need for accountability and transparency. However, the consequences of assessment systems need to be carefully considered as they can otherwise have unintended negative consequences. For instance, high-stakes assessments might be transformed into a de facto filtering system that limits social mobility and facilitates social stratification.
Depending on the use of the assessment outcome, the many different types of educational assessment (including classroom assessment, national or university entrance examinations, tests for certification and licensure, and international comparative tests) can be high- or low-stakes for individuals and society. In the last decade, the assessment community has been provided with new technical tools and measurement models, enabling for instance new assessment modes. However, rapid innovations in information technology and psychometrics are not always coupled with solid theoretical advancements. Consequently, the validity of assessments might be threatened as more attention is often given to the financial and political aspects of the development rather than to potential unintended consequences of introducing new or reshaping existing assessment programmes. In addition, financial, political and ethical debates about privacy and the use of big data for assessment purposes, albeit necessary, can be challenging when so many stakeholders are involved. For instance, it has been observed that technological and psychometric innovations are particularly difficult to communicate to the wider public, not only to parents and students but also to politicians and sometimes even to the research community. Moreover, in order to satisfy diverse political agendas, we have repeatedly seen an over-confidence regarding the possibility of reliably measuring complex abilities, skills and attitudes. This over-confidence occasionally leads to public disappointment, media pressure and distrust, and heated political debates about ‘dropping standards’ and ‘failing assessment systems’.
At the level of every-day classroom assessment, the last decades have nurtured very promising assessment initiatives such as Assessment for Learning, and more countries are moving toward a greater emphasis on assessment carried out by the teachers themselves. Coupled with innovative software and elaborate feedback techniques, increasing emphasis is now given to the professional development of teachers, classroom assessment and student learning. However, we are still struggling to accumulate a critical mass of empirical evidence to show that all this investment has led to societies with improved educational outcomes, and greater equal opportunities and social justice.
Given that national and international educational assessment systems operate within specific legal and cultural frameworks that are the products of ever-changing social and political processes, the assessment community and policy makers share responsibility and should all be held accountable for the consequences of educational assessment. As an assessment community, we have an ethical responsibility to strive for the development of more effective and socially fair assessment practices; however, we will only be able to do this if we understand the nature and functions of the social and political contexts that are the main drivers of our work.
Possible topics for the 17th AEA Europe conference include (please note that this list is not exhaustive):
• Public trust in high-stakes assessments
• The social responsibility of Examination Boards and Awarding Bodies
• How stakeholder mandates and lobbies affect the assessment agenda
• Regulation of the assessment industry: initiatives, innovations and accountability
• The impact of legislation on educational assessment
• The politics of external and school-based assessment
• Assessment and the reproduction of social stratification
• The politics behind national and international attainment studies
• Evidence-based policy making in assessment
• Technological and psychometric innovations in assessment
• New assessment formats
• Alternative assessment paradigms
• Critical approaches in educational assessment
• Validity issues in educational assessment
• Assessment for citizenship
• Social and political underpinnings of vocational assessment
• Tensions between assessment for learning and accountability
• Cross-country comparisons of educational reform and associated assessment approaches
• Trust in teacher assessment
• The teacher as a stakeholder in the development of new assessment paradigms