Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Lack of Consensus About Assessment's Purpose

I've been attending a conference with Guskey.  One thing he mentioned got me thinking: what is the role of assessment in education.  He showed the standard list (something like this)

  1. info for parents
  2. info for students for self reflection / growth
  3. info for changes in teacher practices
  4. info for ranking and group selection
  5. info for systems level changes
  6. motivation for students
  7. creation of student responsibility.
Obviously teachers do not agree on the purpose of assessment.  They tend to be all over the map.  Is this a problem or not? 

To an instructional designer or educational reformer it certainly is.  But when you look at this question through a cultural multi-level selection lens, you get some interesting insights.  Rather than lack of coherence being a bug, sustainability over time suggests it is probably a feature instead (or at least a spandrel).

A Functional Analysis of Lack of Coherence
Homogeneous systems increase corruption pay offs.  In education this might mean that learning how to game the system can produce large pay offs.  Those who are quickest to determine gaming insights get the most benefit (minimal individual costs, maximal group benefits).  This is likely to lead to greater within group variance (the rich get richer, the poor get poorer).  On the other hand, lack of coherence makes corruption much harder.

One interpretation is that Western education operates in a landscape where within-group corruption is minimized.  Another interpretation is that education is a just a loosely coupled system where teachers are free to do whatever they want. I obviously don't think that reason holds up. Why has education stabilized at the degree of looseness it has.

But, functional reasoning is of course problematic. The main take-away is that evolutionary thinking generates very interesting questions and possible responses to questions that are otherwise hard to answer or are likely to give overly simplistic self-destructive answers.

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