A cross country analysis of social justice in assessment: A focus on school reporting

Year: 2017

Author: Adie, Lenore, Poskitt, Jenny, Hayward, Louise

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Social justice is an area of international concern and an underlying tenet of educational policy discourses but, in enactment, challenges remain and the voices of those both inside and outside of education are differentially represented. In this presentation, we explore these issues by examining the education policies and, in particular, the assessment policies of three countries, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia to interrogate how social justice is framed within each. These countries hold similar aspirations for curriculum and assessment in the 21st century. Each is striving to address the challenge of assuring social justice for all young people whilst aspiring to have top-tier international ranking. Conceptualising the policy space as an area for learning and policy as both product and process, we explore tensions between policy aspiration and policy enactment using two theoretical lenses. First, employing Robinson and Taylor's (2007) notions of unequal and problematic power relationships, communication as dialogue, participation and democratic inclusivity, and transformation, we seek to illuminate assessment as a major site of challenge for all three countries. We contextualise these insights in the context of school reporting to parents on their child's educational progress and use this case study to illustrate how policy positions relating to teachers, students and parents open and close opportunities for voice and agency. Second, applying Lundy's (2007) conceptualisation of voice to all participants in the reporting process - a space to express a view, the facilitation of voice, and opportunities for audience and influence - we analyse the ways in which evidence is constructed in School Reports from a social justice perspective.

Our findings illustrate tensions within policy aspirations that privilege intent over understanding needs and responsive actions. Specifically, we consider the impact of labelling on confidence and self-esteem; opportunities to maximise learner success and progress; and the power dynamics that emerge from control of access and response to information in reports of student progress. In conclusion, we propose principles for understanding reporting as a dialogic process through equitable participation without losing sight of the complex realities of assessment practices within the three countries. This includes viewing reporting as reciprocal communication including the notion of mutual experts, the openness to others' worldviews, and communication feedback loops. We argue that social justice principles may be operationalised in assessment and reporting processes through a deliberate focus on the agency of teachers, students and parents to ensure a better alignment between policy aspirations and policy enactment.