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Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform

Author(s): Andy Hargreaves, Lorna Earl, Michele Schmidt
Source: American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Spring, 2002), pp. 69-95
Published by: American Educational Research Association
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American Educational ResearchJournal
Spring 2002, Vol.39, No. 1, pp. 69-95

Perspectives on Alternative
Assessment Reform
Andy Hargreaves and Lora Earl
Ontario Institutefor Studies in Education
of the University of Toronto
Michele Schmidt
Texas A&M University
This article examines classroom assessment reformfrom four perspectives:
technological, cultural, political, andpostmodern. Each perspective highlights
different issues and problems in the phenomenon of classroom assessment.
The technological perspective focuses on issues of organization, structure,
strategy, and skill in developing new assessment techniques. The culturalperspective examines how alternative assessments are interpretedand integrated
into the social and cultural context of schools. Thepoliticalperspective views
assessment issues as being embedded in and resultingfrom the dynamics of
power and control in human interaction. Here assessment problems are
caused by inappropriate use, political and bureaucratic interference, or
institutional priorities and requirements. Last, the postmodern perspective is
based on the view that in today's complex and uncertain world, human
beings are not completely knowable and that "authentic" experiences and

of the International

Centre for Educational

Change and a Professor of Theory and Policy Studies in Education at the Ontario
Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street West,
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V6, Canada. His areas of specialization are the emotional
geographies and emotional politics of teaching and leading and the relationship
between teacher effectiveness and teacher development.
LORNAEARLis Co-director of the International Centre for Educational Change and
an Associate Professor of Theory and Policy Studies in Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street West,
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V6, Canada. Her areas of specialization are assessment, evaluation, and large-scale reform. In particular, she focuses on the interface between
research, policy, and practice.
MICHELESCHMIDTis an Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University, Commerce,

Department of Educational Administration, Commerce, TX 75429-3011. Her current
research interests include the impact of whole-school reform on teachers' learning
and practice and the emotions of teachers and leaders.

Changes in classroom assessment represent major paradigm shifts in thinking about learning. 1997. D. parents. decide how to meet students' varying learning needs (Tunstall & Gipps. how they can best support learning. 1997). Gipps. Stiggins. under closer scrutiny. and teaching. Gipps. Stiggins.H. functions. 1993. Black. Such alternativeassessments are often intended to motivate students to take more responsibilityfor their own learning. coverage.Hargreaves. Bixby. schools. is not that they are ends in themselves but that they are designed to foster powerful. and learn how to share decision making about learning and teaching with colleagues. and how do various assessment purposes differ?How do creative classroom assessments mesh with standardized systemic ones? Do classroom assessments always operate as they should? Are they. 1997). 1991.. and unintended consequences might alternative assessments actually serve or produce. and students (Stiggins. 1995).. but we believe that it is not yet controversial enough. What are the implications of introducing alternative assessments? What purposes.Earl& Cousins. 1998).middleyears teachers. legislated assessments receive the most attention. The point of alternativeclassroom assessments.J. The paradigm shift in classroom assessment is certainly controversial. and to embed it in authentic activitiesthat recognize and stimulate students' abilities to create and apply a wide range of knowledge. classroomassessment. multipleperspectives. what these practices looked like. understand how to include feedback in the teaching process.. Alternativeclassroom assessment requires that teachers use their judgments about children's knowledge. and more credible forms of public accountability (Murphy & Broadfoot.1990).. classroom assessments matter most of all. & McTighe. more powerful learning. 1994. 1994). and what support systems had been providedfor them. 1995. productive learning for students. and Schmidt assessments are fundamentally questionable. what successes and obstacles they encountered during implementation. Pickering. KEYWORDS: Assessment-led reform is now one of the most widely favored strategies to Lpromote higher standardsof teaching. Earl. how they integrated changes into theirpractices. 1995. teachers were asked about their personal understanding of alternative forms of assessment. always really what they seem? When do they rigorously raise standards and when do they superficially simulate them?What are the serious risks of alter70 . Using a semi-structured interview protocol. however they are make assessment an integral part of the learning experience. 1998). Although large-scale.J. about how they had acquired this understanding. & Gardner. and what kinds of curriculum goals. and standards they can help fulfill (Wiggins & McTighe.and portfolio-based assessment (Marzano. Glenn. Manyeducational reformshave heralded new classroom assessment approaches that go beyond traditional paper-and-pencil techniques to include strategies such as performance. They drive student pedagogy and student learning(Stiggins. ratherthan simply engaging in acts of memorizationand basic skill development (Wolf. It means rethinking what assessment and teaching are for.

As a far-reaching and high-stakes innovation. 1995). encouraging moves toward greater curriculum integration.Moore. we will draw on a study that we conducted of how a group of change-oriented teachers who were committed to alternative forms of assessment (among other changes) interpreted and implemented these assessment innovations in their own classrooms (see Hargreaves. where relevant and where the data permit. The wide-ranging educational reform efforts in Grades 7-9 emphasized basing the curriculum around broadly defined common learning outcomes. 71 . This article is a way of arrestingour own ardor for classroom assessment reform so we can step back and reflect on it criticallyand carefully. The Study Our study focuses on 29 Grade 7 and 8 teachers in Ontario. but to draw on the study. questions about their basic purposes. implementing mandatory detracking (destreaming). All of these measures were designed to create a high-quality and inclusive educational system that would retain and engage young adolescents of all backgrounds in the educational process. Each perspective exposes different issues and problems in the phenomenon of innovation. broadly defined learning outcomes. assessment reform is a prime candidate for House's (1981) classic and critical treatment of educational innovation. As we employ and apply these four perspectives. or can they sometimes amount to sinister ways of exercising endless surveillance over the young? In our view. these are some of the deep questions that need to be asked about alternative classroom assessments. and consequences that extend far beyond technical matters of implementation. He examines educational innovation from three perspectives: technological. Given the time that has elapsed since House's article and the ways the world has changed. as well as the opportunities? Are classroombased assessments always humanistic and benign in their implications for supporting student learning and development. One way to do this is by looking at classroom assessment reform through different conceptual lenses or perspectives. and alternative forms of assessment and reporting that were embedded in a new curriculum policy. Canada. we have also added a fourth perspective: a postmodern one. The new curriculumpolicy was developed in the early 1990s and consolidated in a key document (Ontario Ministryof Education and Training. one year before the election of an ultraconservative government in 1996. & Manning. and political. who were identified by school system administrators as being committed to implementing changes concerning curriculum integration. we apply House's three perspectives to assessment reform. Earl. meanings. for the full study).Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform native classroom assessments. to illustrate and exemplify in concrete terms the various perspectives on classroom assessment reform--bearing in mind that our own particulardatabase does not permit us to illustrate all of the critical points that we make in empirical terms. and developing a related set of performance-based assessments. Our aim therefore is not to present exhaustive findings of the study. 2001. In this article. cultural.

high school graduation will be contingent on passing the literacy test. there had been no province-wide program of assessment beyond sample assessments designed for curriculum review. Beginning in 2002. the experience of a decade of standardized assessment reform is already 72 . With the advent of the new Conservative government in 1996. By and large. outcomes were specified as knowledge. * Integrated Curriculum: The curriculum policy promoted integrated learning by grouping subjects into the four broad program areas and explicitly encouraging teachers to make connections across them. and using frequent and varied assessments. Even in this new climate of reform.Hargreaves. There were no prescriptive guidelines for teaching and learning or curriculum delivery. we hope to rekindle debates not only about what was worth fighting for in education before standardized assessment practices. made more specific and prolific. particularlyin terms of the development of provincewide standardized testing. but also about what continues to be worth fighting for beyond those practices. By examining this crucial moment. ratherthan being legislatively enforced. and imposed more forcefully. these assessment practices were encouraged through alignment with the curriculum and the support of school districts. * Assessment:Teachers were expected to assess progress toward the outcomes by developing curriculum. tightened. Before this curriculumpolicy change. including a literacy test taken by all students in Grade 9 for the first time in 2000. and Schmidt Specifically. identifying indicators of reaching the outcomes. 6. Assessment was exclusively in the purview of the classroom teacher. In some places. such as England and Australia. we are seeing that many of the other alternative assessment and reporting practices described in this article persist in Ontario classrooms alongside the more standardized assessments. planning rubrics. teachers were responsible for communicating the assessment changes to the parents of their students. and 9. Our article therefore returns to a recent historical moment before standards and their related assessments were narrowed. however. and values that students were expected to have developed at the end of Grades 3." Within each of these areas." and "Self and Society. We aim to recapture the principles and practices of other kinds of assessment than standardized ones. In addition." "Mathematics/Science/Technology. Teachers were expected to review the outcomes and plan learning activities that would enable students to achieve the outcomes. encouraging self-assessment. the new curriculum policy comprised three closely interrelated components: * Outcomes: The curriculum policy specified 10 very broad "Essential Outcomes" organized into four broad program areas-"The arts. skills. developing appropriate modifications for individual students. Earl. assessment policy changed. assessing both the process and the product of learning. albeit to a lesser extent." "Language.

what successes and obstacles the teachers had encountered during implementation. 1995). 238) Classroom assessments present a morass of technological issues. The underlying assumption in a technological perspective is that everyone shares a common interest in advancing the innovation. The only remaining issue is how best to implement it (House. & Dunbar. 1997).and exhibitions. structure. student-centered alternatives. in this view. video journals. learning-based.1995. they are sometimes hard to untangle from instruction (Khattri & Kane. which will capture the complexities of student performance (Torrance. and all participantswere invited to attend several meetings to interact with other teachers in the project. Baker. the technological perspective focuses on issues of organization.(Stiggins. The focus of this perspective is on the innovation itself. the technological perspective assumes that teaching and innovation are technologies with predictable solutions that can be transferredfrom one situation to another. Our study used a semistructuredinterview protocol to ask teachers about their personal understanding of alternativeforms of assessment and other initiatives. we will remainunable to assist studentsin attaininghigher levels of academicachievementeffectivelyand to be able to integrate them into theirpractice. into their practice. Stiggins (1995) writes about the assessment illiteracythat pervades schools and suggests that: Withouta crystalclearview of the meaningof academicsuccess and without the abilityto translatethat vision into high qualityassessments. Applied to the field of assessment reform. such as performance-based assessment. they bring concerns about reliability and validity (Linn. and skill in developing new assessment techniques. alternativeassessment is a complex technology that requiressophisticatedexpertise in. The challenge of alternative assessment. portfolios. 1991). devising valid and reliable measures for performance-based assessments in classrooms. for example. Alternative assessments take time (Stiggins. 1981). and they frequently presume that 73 . 1995). how they integrated changes into their practices. and what supports had been provided for them. they are often not well described (Stiggins & Bridgeford. self-assessment.Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform leading to an easing of mandated curriculum and assessment expectations and to a re-embracing of more flexible. what those practices looked like.strategy. The Technological Perspective According to House (1981). is not only to develop defensible technologies that are meaningful and fair but for teachers to develop the understandingsand skills necessary to integrateassessment techniques. 1985). on its characteristics and component parts and its production and introduction as a technology. about how they had acquired that understanding. We observed for up to 10 days in each of four teachers' classrooms.p. From this standpoint.

you are talking about 3." said one teacher. When you begin to look at outcomes critically. in reading in a Grade 7 class? What is it?No one has really told us. often lack fundamental measurement knowledge (Stiggins. Earl. Teachers are having to become more sophisticated in their implementation of new assessment strategies (Cunningham. 5 dimensional matrices to really be able to understand it.Hargreaves. Moore." well. inventions. Hargreaves. Contemporaneous with teachers' struggles to become more proficient assessors. There are too many twists and turns. If there's too much there to start with. Earl. many institutional constraints make implementing these assessments difficult. 74 . and consultancy support for teachers to become virtuoso performers with the new strategies are but a few of the problems (Stiggins. With effort and experimentation though. 1995). The technological challenges of alternative assessment reform are repeatedly evident in our own data. For such teachers. teachers began to devise ways to approach this new task.. if you want me to evaluate the skill. They raised questions about how indicators of the learning outcomes could be developed into reliable tools for measuring them. 1997). district]giving us that. One described it as follows: assessment system How do we measure the indicators for the outcomes? We say this is the beginning and middle for this particularoutcome and you know at Grade 9. 2001). "The hardest part of introducing essential learning outcomes. most of whom have very little (if any) assessment training. what does it really mean? I don't see the Ministrygiving us that! I don't see the Board [i. reports.e. Teachers often had great difficulty knowing how to measure outcomes. 4." One exasperated teacher complained. the complexity of the outcomes-based was formidable. 40 books a term? No one is really clear." for example. resources. 1991. essays. professional development. interviews. independent studies. 1991). Not so heavy on the testing. What is an "exceeds outcome. and Schmidt teachers already have the necessary skills to implement them (Earl & Cousins. Insufficient time. & Manning. if your outcome was-and these are from the list that they gave us-"reads widely and diversely. presentations. well. Alternative classroom assessment is a new world for teachers. "is how do you assess these outcomes?" "I think that's where I see a lot of teachers struggling. 1998). [our guidelines stress] conferences. how do you assess the "too much"? The technological challenge of linking assessment and reporting practices to outcomes and indicators was a difficult one. and generally feel uncomfortable about the quality of their assessments (Stiggins. For example. portfolios. projects. what does "exceeds" mean? Does that mean that they read 20 books a term. observations. peer evaluations. journals.

the technological perspective on alternative assessment reform draws attention to the difficulties of devising and refining valid forms of measurement. undertaking one-to-one conferencing and managing the expanding armory of assessment technology placed teachers under huge time pressures (Wilson. The low point came on the day when the other teachers on my team joined most of the students on a field trip and I stayed behind at school to work with 12 students who had not completed their portfolios. I felt as if I had to give up many things. Guilty! This was the beginning of my sentence in portfolio prison. tests. including an enormous amount of time both in school and out of school. to the challenge teachers face when acquiring a wider range of assessment skills and strategies. and to the issue of time and resources that help or hinder the introduction of new assessment practices into the routines of the school. I have videos where we talk about. I have group evaluations." Other teachers felt guilty about habitually being behind with their marking. to the need to harmonize assessment expectations between home and school and across school levels. as a teacher. In the months ahead. As one teacher put it. and I spent most of the class time conferring with the students about their portfolios. Walking-Eagle. They have tests for that unit in the textbook. Writing anecdotal comments. outcomes-based] report card. but then when you have to match that with a mark. Cunningham. In another study in which one of us was involved. 19) An equally challenging problem for teachers was communicating the changes in assessment to parents. 1995. In summary. but I also have peer evaluations. who had committed himself to using portfolio assessment. 1996). all of our work on the old curriculum came to a halt. teachers also confronted problems in terms of their schools' ability to accommodate implementation. self evaluations. that's where we're having trouble. or about conferencing with individual students when others in the class might not be working. 1997. in assessing their knowledge. videos. "I would really love to do anecdotal [reports] but I resent the amount of time that it would take me. 75 . As the deadline for the completed portfolios approached. Testing is just a very tiny spot for me. wrote how he quickly found himself in a "portfolio prison"-a prisoner of time. (Adelman. "did they follow instructions?" As they broadened their assessment repertoires. We had a lot of trouble this year because the marks don't mesh with the [new. Time is one of the most frequently cited problems in regard to implementing alternative assessment (Stiggins. 1998).& Hargreaves. one teacher. simulations. This was especially difficult because the report card was often inconsistent with the approaches to assessment that teachers were using.Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform self evaluations. to work on the portfolio. I can certainly see if a kid is exceeding or meeting [the outcomes]. p.

designing the experiment. This kind of assessment has been described as "authentic. Alternativeclassroom assessment. a unit. 1993. Hargreaves. Historically. The innovation of classroom assessment reform involves many new strategies. Broadfoot. the challenge of assessment reform is one of reculturing (Fullan. It is concerned less with categorizing than with developing a common understanding through dialogue about when learning occurs. a leader in the authentic assessment movement. a semester. The Cultural Perspective According to House (1981). as the core tasks/criteria/context studentworkthatreplicates/simulates done by performersin that field. and managing the organization's capacity to implement the change. They are caused by inappropriate use. Change is conceived as blending new ideas with a cultural history. In the cultural perspective. 1997. developing teachers' assessment literacy. that is. learning (Earl & LeMahieu. 1994) or rethinking the nature and purpose of classroom assessment. however. Wiggins & McTighe. Such assessment must therefore be sufficiently sensitive to detect the mental representations that students hold of important ideas and the facility with which they bring understandings to bear in solving their problems (Shepard. He suggests that the innovation process is actually an interaction of cultures. 1996). Thus findinga the design. and Schmidt But there is much more to alternative assessment reform than refining measurement technology. 1996). Similarly. the end of a class. 1998. the cultural perspective allows an investigation of how innovations are interpreted and integrated into the social and cultural context of schools.Hargreaves. political and bureaucratic interference (Broadfoot. grades) that students (and their parents) used in the educational marketplace. 1996). 1991). classroom assessment has been the hurdle that students needed to overcome to show they were ready for the next stage. as demonstrated in routine classroom tests and exams. or institutional priorities and requirements that can mitigate against any significant changes in assessment (Wilson. or the window into. Some of the assessment problems that manifest themselves as technological issues of implementation go beyond the assessments themselves. It occurred at the end of instruction. defending them against counter-evidence and counterargumentis "doing"science authentically(as opposed to cookbook science labs that are reallyjust hands-onlessons).mathematiciansdon'tfillout worksheetsfora living-they applymathmod76 . and was a symbol of completion and a comment on the adequacy of learning.e. is seen as an integral part of. Earl. or a school year. This approach to assessment generated the currency (i. publishing the results. The substance of learning was much less importantthan teachers' collective judgments about their students' learning potential. we need to turn to the other three perspectives." defined by Wiggins (1989). To understand what else is at stake in alternative classroom assessment reform..

several of its five key recommendations were consistent with authentic assessment principles."Sharing outcomes with students was important:"showing them first what exactly you are engaged. They are active. and relies heavily on teachers' judgments. They felt that openness was very important: "[T]hekids understand whenever [I] evaluate [students] on something. 21) A few of the teachers in our study referred to approaches that might be called "authentic. they generally know how they're going to be evaluated. as some writersdo. particularlythe following: * "[A]ssessmentmust involve the use of a wide varietyof methods so that the evaluation of students' achievement is as accurate as possible. [so] it allows them to know exactly what 77 . This is a telling mistaketo me." (Ontario Ministryof Education and Training. Moving to authentic assessment signals a shift away from curriculum coverage and associated assessments based on correct or incorrect answers. The assessment criteriaare not hidden or mysterious. The report by the Ontario Ministryof Education and Training (1995) did not specifically advocate "authentic assessment" in precisely these words. However. the kids get up front. because the tasks for students comprise real situations that students need to master for success (Cunningham. making what is interesting and vital about a topic real for students by exploring). in my judgement. Authenticshouldnot. and challenged contributors to their own learning. they get up front.evaluation and reporting are the responsibility of the teacher. indicatingthat the defineris not thinkinglike an assessorworryingabout validityand (as opposed to thinkinglike a teachermakingrealwork predictability accessibleand interestingin class). EverythingI want them to learn. passive recipients of the wisdom of teachers' judgments about their learning. Students engage in "realtasks" under the watchful eye of a teacher (or teachers) who control the agenda and make positive use of the opportunities for feedback (Torrance. p. 1995. This approach involves dialogue with and among students and includes constant reassessment and ongoing self-assessment. for example. How they are going to be evaluated. Students are not." Another teacher was proud that "everythingI do. It is important that teachers involve students and parents in making decisions about student progress and programs. deep.evaluation and reporting are continuous and essential parts of curriculum and effective classroom practice.Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform ellingto problemstheoreticaland practical. who must consider the needs of individual students and work closely with them and their families. (Wiggins. There is no mystery." * "[A]ssessment. they get up defined as relevantor meaningfulto kids."Some teachers involved students in the assessment exercise. Teachers are encouraged to teach to the test. Wiggins and McTighe (1998) argue that assessment and curriculumare two inextricably intertwined threads in learning.etc. toward "uncoverage"(i. 1998). 1998).1989) Wiggins claims that authentic assessment is multidirectional. in these instances." * "[A]ssessment.

We sat down and we talked about the writing outcome. We talked about .They use it and their peers use it and we do a comparison. Some teachers also put great store on involving students in devising and applying the evaluation criteria themselves as an integral part of the learning experience and as a responsibility that they have taken upon themselves. and Schmidt the expectations are." That interplay would comprise more emphasis on student self-assessment. but they were pretty close to my own. these are the characteristics. I worked the unit so that they self-evaluate and peer-evaluate and have very specific criteriato go by. they talk about it and then we weight it. peer. what would you see in a creation myth? Well. I have teacher.. these are the characteristics. one teacher reported letting students see on the computer how their marks had been calculated.. and self at the top. the students generate the criteriafor the evaluation.And from that comes the evaluation. If you're going to demand excellence. And then we looked at different ways in which this should be evaluated."For example. And they are really very good." Specifying and sharing assessment criteria in that way was seen as increasing students' own understandingabout their learning and achievement: For us that's really becoming important to get the kids to see it's not just a good job but why it's a good job. and the kids and I made up the evaluation criteria together. more joint reviews of progress between students and their teachers. And. and we use the same criteria. Many teachers in our study wanted "evaluation [that] could be a com- fortable interplay between student and teacher. and then they assessed what it should be out of 5 or 6 for each particularcriterion that we came up with. how to present material in different ways to different audiences. and their parents in discussions about progress. They are pretty accurate. in a good piece of writing. I thought they would all give themselves glowing marks. and more active partnerships between teachers. they wrote a creation myth as the major piece of writing. Earl. you can set it so nobody can reach it or you can build to it. They liked portfolios because they could help students develop greater independence by encouraging them to set up their own learning plan. So they essentially generate the evaluation criteria. Last term. which "theyreally like to see. Ideally. When I do a rubric. together with their teacher. In the area of selfassessment. and to see I got this mark because I met this criterion or I didn't meet this criterion. We are building to it. 78 . teachers valued students' assessments of their own individual progress or the progress of their group. more sharing of assessment targets with students.Hargreaves. for example. and that is what I use to evaluate their work. students. really thinking about what you are assessing and how you are going to do it.

In an authentic assessment system. Teachers' assessment roles dramaticallychanged in authentic assessment. As Allen (1998) says. In an authentic learning and assessment situation. The quest for deep understanding was a shared one. a carefully constructed summary of their child's learning-usually as a series of numerical representations. they worked together to learn from what others had already done. Teachers recognise that in exposing students'work. Teachers not only interacted intensely with the students but also collaborated with one another to build a strong base for their strategicadvice. they are exposing their own work to scrutiny(p. 1998). As one teacher noted. Weekly. some teachers devised strategies for students to reflect on them and use them as a basis for their own learning. because they are using 79 ."so it'snot a truepictureof where theirchildfalls in the class. with a small number of comments. the parents are partners. parents and teachers often differed in their expectations about how student achievement should be measured. The faultmay be with the modifications. positionin the class. Instead of working in isolation.we often stop and reflect.Thatis the time for theirself-reflection in termsof "HaveI made progresswith this or not?" As we are completingwork. 9) In this view. direction.Parentswould love to see how theirchild stacksup in class. parents are also collaborators in their children's learning. as well as what outcomes they have addressed.if ever.we have a reflectionon the week's learning. will "talk past" each other."Allright.Eventhoughyou writeon the reportcard"modifiedprogram. the danger is that teachers and parents or teachers and students. except for the "shiningexamples"which tend to reflectwell on student and teacheralike. seen by anybody besides the teacher and the student. There was no mystery.and the kids need to identifywhat learningthey have done. The mutual understanding that is at the heart of the cultural perspective remained an elusive goal in many parent-teacher relationships concerned with assessment. They became collaborators in their students' learning. parents are the passive recipients of the coveted report card. and judgments. This is perhaps the most threatening step for teachers to take.they see the mark. In the cultural perspective."they don'tsee that. In that way. samples of studentwork are rarely.You still averagein those "modifiedstudents. assessment and learning could begin to be integrated. what outcome does this meet?"We begin to make connections. and shared their thoughts about teaching and learning as a way of supporting their own reflection and understanding (Allen.Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform Having made assessment criteria explicit. In a traditionalassessment paradigm.

the parentsfeel very comfortable. Some teachers sent outcomes and assessment criteriahome with the students and included them in a newsletter so that they could be placed on the wall. whenever feasible. They like the fact that they know exactly how theirmark was calculated. not justbe talkedat. I thinkit really improvedcommunicationnot only between the kids and the parents. Within the cultural perspective of authentic assessment. teachers may be measuring children against a standard. 80 Having studentsfill out a sheet indicating their strengths. I havethatreadyforthem.Forthe interviews. .Itwasn'tlike people were worriedaboutcomingin.or in a notebook if parents wished.vs. Earl. the task of educators is not to pander to popular prejudices and assumptions about assessment but to deepen everyone's understanding of learning and assessment issues. I have all my marksbroken down so they [the students]can see exactlywhere they are in theirmarks. and. especially students. involving students and parents in developing and discussing assessment criteriawith teachers. on the refrigerator. and whatam I going to hearaboutmy child?Theybasicallyknew ahead of time.It justgave themtime to sortthroughtheirthoughtsso that they could come in and reallydiscussit. The solution is to build better understanding by clarifying assessment criteria.when the parentscome in forinterviews. and clear. Developing this collaborative understanding with parents is as important as it is with students.They mightnot like the markbut they perceiveit as beinga lot moreobjectiveso that. One teacher explained how she carefully disaggregated students' marks so that the criteriaand evidence through which they had been created were open. whereas parents want them to be measured against each other (criterion. the parentsand the teacher and the school.Hargreaves. Using portfolios to get students and their parents to talk together beforeparent interview night: I reallyliked the way the interviewswent this time.and I do a marksverification exercise. This means not only explaining assessment criteria more clearly and openly but also developing them with the cooperation of others. as many of the teachers we studied were able to confirm. and Schmidt differentassessment criteria. needs and highlights of the term to share with theirparents: I feel thatwhen we're interviewingand the studentsare also letting their parentsknow where they are at and where they should be going. Therejust seemed to be a more comfortableair about the interviews. accessible. Taking the mystery out of grading and the arbitrarinessout of judgment can help build understanding with parents as well as students. norm-referenced).For instance. making them transparent.I have the whole listof theirmarksto dateon paperfor themand I put it down in front of them. Some of the teachers found that this goal could be achieved through multiple strategies: 1. where possible. 2. but between the kids.

Viewed this way. the parents and the teacher and the school. a cultural perspective of classroom assessment emphasizes the interplay among points of view. and all of a sudden they hand in this wonderful lab report and I'm impressed with it. involves the exercise and negotiation of power. the task of developing alternative assessment moves far beyond technological matters of measurement. and existing relationships into the area of establishing communication and building understanding among all those involved in the assessment exercise. we had what the child felt were his/her areas of strength and weakness and the teacher's if they differed from the child's. and teachers together: When we did reports this time. and beliefs. skill.Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform 3. and it identifies the problems of implementing alternative classroom assessment as moving beyond issues of technical coordination and human communication to encompass the power struggles among ideologies and interest groups in schools and 81 . In summary. involving parents. 4. and competing interests among groups. So when they came to the interview. in House's (1981) view. This is an area for continual contact with the parents daily. students. values. That earns me brownie points. Using a daily agenda to maintain continuous contact with parents: The kids keep track in their agenda of the work that they have. The Political Perspective The political perspective on educational innovation. 5. Three-way interviews. Before the child came in. Parents or students can write me a note in their agenda if the student has had trouble with something. we had three staff interviews after the reports went home. coordination. I think it really improved the communication not only between the kids and the parents but between the kids. The parents also had time ahead of time to write things. Both the parents and the child came to the interview. we had the report to go from. they had a chance to go over what they thought their areas of strength and weaknesses were and ways they felt that they could improve. The parents are so happy. Not one parent came to (the principal) with concerns about the interview. Informal contacts with parents beyond written reportsand agendas orformal meetings: Lastyear I had time and actually called parents up from time to time when a kid had written a particularlygood lab report and say I just wanted to let you know that so and so hadn't been doing so well. the payoff is phenomenal. authority. and every night they need to get it signed by the parents. I could be writing to the parent. I could be writing to the student. so that when we came in everybody was organized for the interview and knew the types of things that were going to be discussed. A political perspective on alternative assessment recognizes that all assessments involve acts of power. and I write back.

The power of the portfolioconferenceis that [students have]an opportunityto talkaboutwhat they have done. [Theyhave]tremendouspower. I ask the kids at the end. Assessment is part of the help them out. 82 . understands. Stiggins. equally available to all. where they are going. I like the idea of talkingto the studentsand the parentsboth at the same time. students. "Wherecould I have changedthings?What was the most difficultthingin this unit?If you were the teacher. that assessment criteria are known to students and often developed collaboratively with them so that better understanding can be developed and classroom power can be redistributed. Students have to accept some responsibility for learning. A political perspective also treats alternative classroom assessment as itself being problematic-as a strategy that might not empower people but could become a sophisticated new form of selection and surveillance. Earl. from student to teacher. In convergent assessment. that assessment judgments are acts of explicit negotiation among all those involved. Some teachers appreciated that their own practice could be opened to scrutiny. I'mgettingfeedback. and Schmidt societies. 1997. and what theirgoals are. 1995). the important thing is to know if the child knows. It is the feedback loop that allows teachers. and publicly contestable in their application. and between parents and teachers. Torrance and Pryor(1995) identify two conceptually distinct approaches to classroom assessment. The political potential of alternative assessment strategies was most apparent when teachers invited evaluation of themselves. the focus is discovering what the child knows. andyou can see it in the parents'faces thatthey [have]reallylistened to what their son and daughterhad been doing. Divergent assessment. Here. as well as from teacher to student.and I'mtryingto learnfromtheirfeedback where I can improvethe course. emphasizes the learner's understanding ratherthan the agenda of the assessor. The power of decision making resides clearly with the teacher. They [have]really understoodit. Gipps. and teachers are charged with creating the conditions for this to occur. that is. Teachers in our study who engaged students and their parents in assessment were explicitly aware of these issues. understands. The underlying philosophy of many of the alternative approaches to classroom assessment is that assessment is an essential part of learning. and that assessment processes move in many directions from student to student. when assessment moved in more than one direction. 1994. Divergent classroom assessment reforms make it important that assessment criteria be transparent. and they used assessment to help them reflect on and change the way they taught.Hargreaves. or can do a predetermined thing. for example. on the other hand. and parents to identify the extent to which learning has occurred and to shape their actions for the next stage of learning (Earl & would you changeit?"to help me out so thatnext yearwhen I teach it I look back and see where I can makethose changes. or can do. and it relatedto the reportcard.

and by educational policymakers and the real and imagined public to whom they cater. Thereis now this literacyreportthat[allstudents]musthave following them fromkindergartento grade 12. recalcitrant. 1992). numerical. [The]literacyassessmentprofile[is]a lot of workand a lot of testing. students. high schools pressure their elementary colleagues to use more conventional forms of measurement and reporting. Firestone. These inconsistencies are deeply embedded in policy (Nuttall. 1998). on the one hand. They represent different points of view about assessment held by teachers. & Fairman. The major purpose of assessment in this case is 83 . had to deal with a complex and demanding new literacy profile that had to be administered to all their students.All you're doing is assessment. it is politics too. 1994. It is hard to expect teachers to harmonize their assessment practices when policymakers and the wider public cannot. and parents.which has to have five pages of correlatingcheckmarksto go through. applied consistently to large populations. and I don't know how they are going to do this. for example.Andit involvesassessmenton an individualbasis.There'svery little so-called teaching/ learninggoing on because we're spendingso much time testing. and comparable assessment data culled from examinations or objective tests. Assessment is used as the mechanism to provide evidence for these decisions. Darling-Hammond. Many of these contradictions are embedded in assessment policy itself. or unmotivated. on each studentthey teach.Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform If alternative assessment promises to establish more positive micropolitical relationships among teachers.[Teachers]have to have three samplesof writing. more productive ways but are unfocused. One group of reformers holds that educational change and improved student learning are the responsibility of some external individual or group in authority with the power to judge quality. 1997. are what these groups of reformers desire. that can undermine the successful implementation of these new strategies. at the micro and macro levels. exercise control. So do parents. This view is often based on the assumption that teachers have both the capacity and the ability to act in different. Teachers in one school district. For example. The obvious remedy for increasing student learning is to apply pressure and issue educational reform directives. Other reformers believe that educational change and improved student learning are largely internal processes that the people who live and work in classrooms must undertake. These contradictoryforces have made assessment reform a schizophrenic activity (Earl & LeMaheiu. It is an amazingamountof work to be done by the teacheron each student. Coordinating expectations across communities and systems is a considerable political challenge for assessment reformers as well as a technical challenge. There'sjustso muchgoing on thatall you'redoing is testing. Mayrowetz.throughouteach year. lazy. on the other. Hard. and order compliance. standardized.

Our evidence is that this is leading teachers either to abandon teaching practices that inclusively address the varying needs of all their students in favor of rote test preparation. content-based assessments in five subjects. 1996. Earl. In the United States and elsewhere. question. forthcoming). To maintain support and avoid criticism. teach. Reformers committed to this stance assume that many teachers do not have current knowledge or skills about changing theories of learning or assessment (the technological perspective) and require support to acquire knowledge and training before they can change their both improve individual student learning and placate demands for system-wide accountability. The political and practical conundrum for teachers is that policymakers often avoid choosing between these differentvalue positions about educational change and the reform groups that support them. or to exhaust themselves preparing students for the tests at the same time as assisting students with assessments that enable them to demon84 . and the flexible assessments that accompanied them and that enabled teachers to address the individual needs of their diverse students. for example. achieve agreement about consistent and equitable expectations for quality.numerical comparabilityand descriptive sensitivity. Mayrowetz. Meanwhile. Ryan. and create feedback loops directed toward changing the way they teach (the cultural perspective). 2000). In states such as Virginia. policymakers often blur the issues and try to appeal to both camps (Hargreaves. states such as Massachusetts have instantaneously eclipsed alternative assessments focused on classroom learning with content-loaded curriculum reforms and their associated assessments (Oakes. have been attacked. In the United States. study. and Schmidt to help teachers and students improve classroom learning. then reversed in favor of more conventional. Assessment reform is not connected to compliance with mandates but is rooted in the constructivist view that learning depends on self-monitoring and reflection. culminating in high-stakes. entitled Change Over Time (on 30 years of secondary education in Canada and New York State) reveals a more gradual encroachment of standardized assessments in New York State over a 7-year period. Quartz. embracing common standardsand individualvariation. and learn. provides an opportunity for teachers to share ideas and discuss their standards together. Assessment is an opportunity for them to reflect. one disturbing trend is that more standardized assessments and the demands that they place on teachers and students have become by far the more dominant of the two reform patterns. as a result of pressure from elite parents' groups (Nespor. Resolving these contradictions should therefore be a political problem for policymakers and not merely a practical problem for teachers. 1998). & Ryan. graduation depends on demonstrating minimum competency in all these subjects and their assessments.Teachers are left to cope with the consequences-consequences that even the most changeoriented teachers find exasperating. & Lipton. plan. research that my colleagues and I are undertaking for the Spencer Foundation. & Fairman.Hargreaves. Assessment reform. Earl. broadbased reforms oriented toward outcomes. standardized forms. Moreover. Firestone. then.

"Some teachers kept things of this sort in mind to use when they made more formal evaluations. it seemed that peer evaluation (which can be extremely useful as an honest and valued form of feedback among students) had degenerated into snitching and spying. or creativity that might serve students better in the world beyond school (despite raising management problems for the teachers who taught them). toward successive or complementary forms of discipline. Nowhere is this more true than in the assessment of affect. carefully regulated process of adminis85 . most of them tried to evaluate more than students' intellect. not behavior such as questioning. The way many teachers described how they actually assessed affect. teachers in our study confronted serious and significant obstacles. The political perspective does not simply illuminate the differences between traditional and alternative assessment practices and pit them and their advocates against each maybe you should thinkaboutloweringthata bit. might be reclassified as one "who really understands the concepts well [but] may have terrible cooperative team skills which would detract from his 'A' grade.X. In general. chapter 3). Foucault argues. 1977. Assessing the affective domain for many teachers entailed using checklists to assess things like body language. Discipline. paying attention in class. displaying positive attitudes toward the subject. or they put checkmarks in their markbooks to record them. Mr. risk taking. or correction and incarceration. the amount of work produced. the latter.Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform strate more sophisticated learning through performances and exhibitions (Hargreaves. and showing willingness to seek extra help from the teacher. attitudes toward discipline and punishment today have moved beyond vengeance and torture. in press. you didn'thearthat. initiative. In one instance." Many of the affective attributesthat teachers assessed seemed to be synonyms for student compliance with the behavioral norms of schooling. as if this were some kind of war between good and evil. One teacher reported what peer evaluation in his case might involve: Havingsomebody else look at the numberand say. 1989). "Whyare you puttingdown 8 out of 10?I rememberthe times when you told soand-soto F. It also highlights the political risks and excesses of alternative assessment practices themselves. however. is now a finely graded. In entering the affective domain of student assessment. Few scholars have anticipated these political problems of contemporary assessment better than the French social theorist Michel Foucault. seemed tantamount to exercising behavioral surveillance over everything that their students did in an unending set of judgments from which there seemed little escape (Foucault. If one student made a "snarky"comment about assertiveness. According to Foucault (1977). Hargreaves.""Youknow.though an exceptional student. making positive comments to one's group partners. beyond the customary preoccupation with effort. completing homework.

he argued. self interrogationwithoutend.Hargreaves. (p. would be an indefinitediscipline. The bleakest possible political scenario for systems of alternative assessment is one approximating the "ideal"system of modern penal treatment described by Foucault. represent these principles more clearly than the examination. peer assessment. no longer a measurement for future memory. invisible observer. Foucault suggests. "the constant pressure acts even before the offences. judged and compared as someone who may now. Teachers in our study occasionally pointed out the importance of not assessing everything. Earl. excluded. These processes permit educational selection to be selfguided and failure to be disclosed gradually. Moreover. ratherthan sudden and shocking. or at some future unknown point. or of not evaluating all of a child's portfolio. each individual is made into a documented case. Such a system. Its strength is that it never intervenes. a surveillancethatmakes it possible to qualify.It is a normalizinggaze. an investigationthatwould be extendedwithoutlimitto a particularand ever moreanalyticalobservation. intense and intrusive. but a document for possible use" (p. In this particular kind of case-record-based examination. 227) Affect needs to be assessed thoughtfully and reflectively in schools if it is to contribute to children's learning in a significant way and not merely make the children easier to control. and so forth. disclosures about terminal illness that medical staff make to hospital patients (Hopfl & Linstead. continuous and remorseless in its application and effects. need to be trained or corrected. Few processes. normalized. classified. 191). Panopticism is a principle of discipline in which power is exercised through an all-seeing. to be retrieved and referred to at any future point-comes uncomfortably close to certain aspects of alternative assessment practice such as continuous student classifyand to punish. and Schmidt trative control over body and mind where surveillance is perpetual and pervasive. This building of a dossier-of an extended case record.a judgmentthatwould at the same time be the constitutionof a file thatwas never closed. 1993). 184) With the advent of disciplinary methods. The examinationcombinesthe techniquesof an observinghierarchy with those of a normalizingjudgment. One teacher's story illustrated the limits she 86 . it is exercised spontaneously and without noise" (p. as in the therapeutic. Alternative assessments can stage the gradual disclosure of failure as modern medicine stages the disclosure of death. As a result. and portfolio assessment. mistakes or crimes have been committed. written description became "a means of control and a method of domination. (p. 206). wide-ranging and unending alternative assessments can embody panoptic principles of observation and monitoring. in stages.

1976). 1989. postmodernity (Harvey. valuing multiple intelligences. promoters of multiple intelligences and defenders of traditional standards of content. The postmodern condition has begun to reshape public education and the agenda for educational change. how can I marka kid I refuseto do that. and in some places. But if you questionher in the class in front of the other kids-Oh. it is a personalitything. colonialists and post-colonialists. and uncertainty. Baumann. diverse learning (and teaching) styles. Three issues are particularlyrelevant to the discussion of assessment reform.WhereasI have other like thatin communication? kids. governments have countered the spread of uncertainties with an emphatic assertion and imposition of false certaintiesof their own. and a process-based and integrated rather than content-based and specialized curriculum. postindustrialism(Bell. in press) and taking refuge in "proceduralillusions of effectiveness" (Bishop & Mulford. governments have rolled with and even embraced these uncertainties and complexities. This era has been variously labeled modernity (Giddens. The second issue concerns the impact of electronically stimulated and simulated images and appearances on the core work of education and educational change. Since House set out his three perspectives on educational innovation. I'm not here to change a kid's personality. 1992). or the informational society (Castells. Many people in industrialized nations now view themselves as living in a distinct. The first concerns the impact of complexity.I will coax it along or I will tryto develop it in certainways. diversity.She has had to deal with an awful lot in her life. in this respect. the growing cultural diversity of many student populations is challenging the established canons of Western knowledge and belief that have underpinned the curriculum. schooling has been assailed by disputes and uncertainties between multiculturalists and creationists. Contradictory assessment imperatives are. our social and educational worlds have changed dramatically. The electronically generated profusion and confusion of knowledge and information is challenging assumptions about what is most essential to teach. 1990). at least partly a postmodern phenomenon. Sometimes. 1996) that standardized tests and other technical certainties reassuringly provide. pandering to parents' nostalgia for the kinds of schooling they think they remember (Hargreaves. At the same time.At other times. The existence and expansion of new technologies drive peo87 . 1996). 1992). but that is all! Postmodem Perspectives House's (1981) perspectives provide a set of classic lenses for understanding classroom assessment as it has been and is evolving.Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform felt it was important to establish to guard against the political risks of alternative assessment: I have one littlegirl in my room [witha pronounceddisability]. As a result. postcapitalism(Drucker. new social era.

1994). 1995). In culturallydiverse classrooms. Who the "real"family or parents of children are is often not the least bit clear. widely held perspectives on alternative classroom assessment. computer literacy). results."teachers say. Webster's dictionary defines authenticity as "the quality of being 88 . Green. What a family truly is any more is no longer a singular or self-evident matter. What is importantor real to children today. At the same time. how the products and processes of education are designed and packaged is crucial. slick designs). they feel they can at least provide the best for their own children. In this supermarket of schooling. Fitzclarence. schools without walls). No assessment process or system can therefore be fully comprehensive. Family structures are more complicated (Elkind. Many teachers today feel that they have aliens in their classrooms (Bigum.Hargreaves.. how children learn. What does all this mean for assessment reform in the postmodern age? What issues can a postmodern perspective on alternative assessment highlight that older perspectives do not? A postmodern perspective on alternative assessment is based on the view that in today's complex and uncertain world. is also complex and constantly changing. MTV. and administration can be integrated and accessed technologically within common or interconnected systems of information." They no longer seem knowable or predictable. and Schmidt pie's ideas of what skills children should learn (e. Schools cater to children living postmodern lives. and report cards look matters for the credibility and very survival of many schools. in their world of CDs. Intelligence is no longer seen as singular. but by reflecting critically on the interpretationsthat we have presented so far. Earl. This section challenges and critiques the previous three. In a world of great uncertainty. different fonts. accountability. and believe is acknowledged as being complex and cannot be taken for granted. think. Children may interact multiculturally in their classrooms but associate with their own ethnocultural group in the school cafeteria. human beings are not completely knowable.g. fixed. How learning. turning them into strangers in many of their teachers' classrooms. but the meanings and the existential experiences we describe as authentic are fundamentally questionable. It does so largely not by describing new data from our study (although we do some of this). The third issue is the impact of postmodern influences on children. feel. or predictable. shifting their allegiances and identities from one situation to the next (Ryan. how teaching and learning should be reorganized (computers integratedinto classrooms.with reduced attention to contributing to the public good of all society's children. the intrusion of market-choice principles into public education has led parents to act increasingly like fragmented individual consumers. to deepen the criticalanalysis of alternative classroom assessment more generally. as parents are able and often incited to choose between them. "Students. 1997). & Kenway. schools. how learning can best be represented (multiple formats. computers and videogames and multichannel TV. "Authenticity"has been paraded as a solution to the problems of assessment. and how systems of assessment. The postmodern perspective challenges the very concept of authentic assessment. Image appears to be everything.walkmen and discmen. "have changed.

Webster's describes authenticityas "close conformity to an original:accuratelyand satisfyinglyreproducing essential features. modern buildings are given traditional facades. mean possessing "complete sincerity without feigning or hypocrisy. computer technology.assessments clearly cannot be authentic in the sense of having indisputable origins. In the age of electronic education it is more difficultto discern if students'work is their own. is applicable where an authentic phenomenon proceeds "indisputably. and fake rocks adorn the spectacular atriums of Las Vegas hotels because they look more real than real ones (Ritzer.In the postmodern paradigm."Yet in a postmodern world of uncertain and contested knowledge. real or genuine and "bona fide. valid. Yet alternative assessments are less similar to "realistic"photographs or "faithful"portraits than are cubist paintings-representing and interpreting ratherthan reproducing reality from multiple angles and perspectives. theatrical performances. Alternative assessment may be diverse. Last."according to Webster's dictionary." yet in the postmodern age.and fashion freely recycle. "authentic"can. in press). to determine whether the sources from which their work draws are reputable. This gives students the power to cull instant information from multiple sources at the click of a mouse or to download pictures and pie charts ratherthan develop the skills of compiling data and representing them through their own creative ingenuity. and the Internet make it possible for students to engage in cybercheating from students in other schools or from commercial sites such as "The Evil House of Cheat"(Hargreaves. image often supersedes reality and becomes increasingly indistinguishable from it (Baudrillard. One meaning of "authentic"is that it "stresses fidelity to actuality and fact" and "is not contradicted by evidence. inclusive. producing beautiful "fakes"of grown-up book publications. 1990). In a third definition. from a given source that is avowed or implied. literature. where new jeans are faded to look old. In education. blend. or artistic portfolios. "Authentic"assessments simulate reality as much as they create it. A second meaning of "authentic. where there is a constant sorting. true. genres. 1998). and synthesize styles. negotiated. singular and unquestioned views of reality and fact are being deposed by multiple perspectives grounded in culturally diverse viewpoints. and periods as in Cuban jazz.." Yet the postmodern world of simulation is one where illusion is widespread and acceptable. In the postmodern world. or techno-pop. formats." Several definitions of "authentic"are offered-all of them problematic when applied to education and assessment in a postmoder paradigm.This is close to Wiggins's (1989) definition of authentic assessment as repeating and simulatingthe core tasks and criteriafor performersin a given field. the very idea of indisputability of source or origin is untenable.. sifting. for example. e-mail."as in a portrait. Music. but this is precisely why it cannot be "authentic"in this first sense of the term. Perhaps few things are more contrived and less authentic than authentic assessment. and multifaceted. and to decide if these things matter. in Webster's terms.Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform authoritative. wide-ranging. Afro-Celt. and motifs from different cultures. and reflecting on one's 89 .

"Much of what passes for authentic curriculum and authentic assessment in the jargon of contemporary pedagogy. promising "feel good" improvement and empowerment in a world where poverty and inequity continue to rise. even a McDonaldization of people's emotions. suggesting that in the face of increasing inequalities. is not just that it is difficult to achieve in postmodern times. at least our consumer purchases and lifestyle choices can make us feel more authentic. an old-fashioned gut response of "B+. The danger of making "authentic assessment" into a "holy grail" of educational change is that it might well contribute to and become part of this wider discursive. where we are taught how and what to feel in a Disneyesque culture of "niceness. Alternative assessments. and more real. (p. over is surely "artificial" Whetherit's justifieddepends both on how much we value its end purposeand whetherwe concludeit'sa good routetowardreaching such an end. mounting violence. blackboards." says Meier. with their corridors. and authenticityisn't a guaranteeof good education. and rampant individualism. especially portfolio assessments." Post-emotional society is. In the face of complex postmoder assessment technology. desks. image over reality.could do better"startsto seem much more authentic and sincere.or engaging in stage-managed three-way interviews with parents and students. What are some of the dangers to be vigilant about here? Sophisticated forms of representing learning for some educators can amount to little more than slick images and superficial appearances to others. Students and teachers can be seduced into valuing form over substance." achieving authenticity becomes an emotional symbol.the celebration of "authenticity"is itself a postmodern phenomenon. Earl. assessing one's peers using complex grids of criteria. 80).Hargreaves. what really should matter is that learning and its assessment are purposeful and engaging for students. with glossy covers. As an organization. in this sense. and a sprin90 . "seems to miss this point by giving in to the search for entertainment and avoidance of boredom rather than in pursuit of clear purposes and powerful learning" (p. 598). elegant fonts. Rather. urban school principal Debbie Meier (1998) cuts to the chase when she says. and lockers. 596) The truth is that schools. Littlecould be more artificialor manufacturedthan this. Artificialitydoesn't have to be a bad word. Skjepan Mestrovic (1997) argues that postmodern society is characterized by a manufacturing. rhetorical distortion. can simulate rather than stimulate achievement. In a world where designer fashions are labeled "authentic"and Coca Cola is "the real thing. In his analysis of post-emotional society. The most formidable critique of the idea of authenticity in the postmodern perspective. In her dissection of authenticity and educational change. less fake. are highly artificial places.Playingscales on the piano over and but so is the piano and what we do on it. and Schmidt achievements in a portfolio. however. one of "artificiallycontrived authenticity"(p.

in positive terms. visual. individuals who are engaged in continuous self-reflection can become "boundless selves" (Hargreaves. oral. in the absence of honest criticism.Perspectives on Alternative Assessment Reform kling of multicolored graphs and flow-charts masking mediocre content and analysis. Thus. In his study of the implementation of portfolio assessment in an elementary school and its district. Portfolios may become devices to drive and define students' achievement. irrespective of the quality or worth of their achievements. In the name of self-reflexiveness. 1994) who learn no limits to their own egos and desires and overestimate their ability to transformthe world. In this sense. 1984). Hierarchical distinctions of worth between these different forms of representation are diminished or eliminated. Nespor (1997) shows how teachers used the complex signs and representations of portfolio assessment to avoid or obscure grading hierarchies. in other words. or dramatic media that are collected in a diverse portfolio of activity and achievement. for example. The empowering nature of this process is revealed in the following quotes: 91 . numerical. In these ways. obsessive object of reflection and re-presentation(Lasch. used the discourse of portfolios to connect themselves to other members of their profession rather than to communicate clearly with the parents of the students they were supposed to serve. and self-centered personality by making it into an endless. As with the classic narcissisticpersonality.young people may be induced to parade their psyches in public. so that the achievements of students from visually oriented cultures. Teachers. reducing it to surface appearances. This allows students' work to be seen through multiple perspectives and allows the complexity of their abilities and identities to be acknowledged more readily. technological. which Giddens (1995) describes as characterizing the postmoder age. The parents (especially the working-class parents) were all too aware that the later stages of schooling and adult life beyond were differentiated and unequal. and this made them rightly anxious for "objective" scores and grades that showed where their children stood (so that they could take corrective action. Various kinds of self-assessment can draw students into processes of inner exploration that amount to psycho-communicative excess (Denzin. Alternatively. are not systematically devalued in comparison with the achievements of students whose forte is more in the areas of writing or arithmetic. a postmodern system of alternative assessment comprises multiple forms of representation of students' achievement through written. self-indulgent. a postmodern assessment practice can offer multiple representations of students' learning in ways that give maximum voice and visibility to their diverse activities and accomplishments. if necessary). portfolio and performance assessments can easily trivialize and diminish the substance of learning. 1990). so that students perform community service or extracurricular activities not because of their moral value but because they want to have the right kind of curriculum vitae or portfolio. self-assessment might actually cultivate an inwardly narcissistic.

extra-curricular The kids have a cross-curricular. or their own learning have begun to be treated more seriously. One kid said to me in frontof the class..don't makeus say that. personalmanagementskills. "Ohplease Miss. degenerate into narcissistic self-indulgence. more critical and empowering. if you can say that. or by parents. and community members discussing and developing their own accountabilityindicators (instead of simply applying other people's) (Earl& LeMahieu. The struggle for knowledge about students in postmodern times is no longer something that should depend on the technical judgment or holistic insight of the teacher or of governments.1997)."Butthen he looks in the portfolio and even though he's still not very academic."And they all go... portfoliothat is . Such a postmoder system of alternativeassessment involves the students' voices in the process of assessment (as we outlined earlier) and in determining how the products of assessment might be compiled and used. and students engaging in three-way interviews about student portfolios together on parents' night. learning. Such conversations concentrate on multiple readings of students' work that might be represented by business people judging science fairs. I want you to look through it. their own health.I want you to keep it. my whole life I thoughtI know I'mnot very smart.other people's ideas about their own experience. than they have ever been.there'sso many thingsthathe is good at.Hargreaves. or crowd out deeper learning and classroom caring. As postmodern conditions have destabilized people's beliefs in the capacity of experts to judge others with any certainty."Anywaythey did it. communities of people should dialogue with students in ongoing conversations about students' learning and achievement in relation to a range of contents and with different purposes. Such student involvement is not just an act of empowerment but is also a way for teachers to acknowledge that they cannot fully know their students and may not even begin to know them without having access to the self-understanding of students themselves. teachers.I'mnot very academicand thereforeI thoughtI wasn'tverygood at verymanythings. "Youknow Mrs. Conclusion Each of these perspectives on alternative assessment reform points to opportunities to make assessment. equal between academicskills. and teaching more technologically sophisticated. They put in a piece or they writeabout an event or an activity. Once a week the kids administertheirportfolios. media representatives.. and teamworkskills. They have to reflecton the skills. Earl. and Schmidt I said to them a littledifferentsomethingtoday. or by employers.. "Insteadof refiling yourportfolio.Woods. Instead. I want you to make a statementin frontof the whole class about how you feel aboutit at thisstagein the gameandthe reasonforyour feeling. Each also highlights the risks that alternative classroom assessment might extend into apparently endless surveillance. more collaborative and reflective. Choosing the positive over the negative sce92 .

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