Assessment for Social Justice: realising the social justice potential of assessment

Year: 2019

Author: McArthur, Jan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Assessment for Social Justice (McArthur 2016,2018) looks to realise the potential for assessment to play a significant role in furthering social justice within and through higher education. It takes inspiration from assessment for learning and the important role assessment plays in shaping what and how students learn. I will explore how we need to rethink assessment in order to fulfil its social justice potential. What assumptions do we have that need to be challenged? For example, what counts as ‘fair’ in an assessment context? How do we conceive our pedagogical relationships with students – what role is there for trust and honesty?

The paper will demonstrate the ways in which conventional thinking about assessment relies on an unacknowledged procedural view of social justice – with the concept of fairness assumed to be achieved so long as fair, or ‘due’, process is observed. In contrast the paper considers social justice in more complex terms, such as that associated with critical theory. Thus this paper aims to provide a philosophical re-consideration of assessment that also translates clearly into practical action.

To lay the foundation for Assessment for Social Justice I draw upon two distinct theoretical traditions. Firstly, the theoretical framework of Axel Honneth’s third generation critical theory and his understanding of social justice in terms of mutual recognition. I will argue that social justice demands that students engage with assessment tasks that enable them to develop traits and abilities which are socially useful (which extends far beyond economic use value alone) and are recognised by others as such, and by students themselves as such. In order to focus on how we can effect change in our assessment practices I introduce the further theoretical element of Schatzki’s social practice theory. This enables us to consider what we would change in our assessment practices in order to enable the mutual recognition at the heart of greater social justice. While the focus of this paper is higher education, much of the broader philosophical and theoretical elements are equally applicable to other education contexts. Indeed, if we do not consider assessment for social justice in children’s first experiences of assessment, we make the later task so much more difficult.

McArthur, Jan. 2016. “Assessment for Social Justice: the role of assessment in achieving social justice.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education41 (7): 967-981

McArthur, Jan. 2018. Assessment for Social Justice. London: Bloomsbury