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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A philosophical critique of student assessment practices Spear, Robert Edward


Standard critiques of student assessment practices (i.e., testing, marking and grading), typically take the form of either a technical critique of assessment instruments, or a sociopolitical critique of the general enterprise of selection, or both. These approaches can be limiting, however, in that they do not always directly address pedagogical and moral concerns. In an attempt to compensate for their limitations, this study offers a philosophical critique of testing, marking and grading. Drawing on the work of R.S. Peters, Israel Scheffler and Thomas Green, an initial account of 'education' and 'teaching' is offered, which is then used to critically review four common defences of testing, marking and grading. The four defences are 1) that the activities of testing, marking and grading are central to the activity of teaching, 2) that a system of testing, marking and grading motivates students to learn, 3) that a system of testing, marking and grading ensures accountability, and 4) that a system of testing, marking and grading is a necessary and defensible mechanism for sorting people on the basis of academic achievement. As a result of this review, it is concluded that much of what is done within schools in the way of testing, marking and grading undermines the educative project. Some of what is done is also morally suspect. It is hoped that by making the pedagogical and moral objections clear, the way will then be open to redefine the point and purpose of individual assessment within school, and to reshape assessment practices accordingly.

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