|Teaching and Learning Forum 2006 [ Refereed papers ]|
Murdoch Business School
The concept of authentic assessment and its development as an alternative to traditional assessment and testing has received particular attention in the debate concerning the relationship between assessment and learning. Through the application of concepts drawn from governmentality theory it is argued that within the current and predominant political rationality of neo-liberalism, assessment in higher education is a technology of governance. As such, assessment translates contemporary education policy from the level of the general and programmatic to the everyday level of common practice. It is the mechanism through which the 'job ready' graduate is produced as someone who has transferable skills that are suited not only to the present but the future, is committed to lifelong learning, can 'do' as well as know the discipline in which they graduate, and is ready for the 'real' and globalised world. However, it is also argued that alternative, non-typical assessment can create anxiety among students. Rather than see this reaction as a failure, it can be read as resistance, as an engagement with rule and as evidence of the need for resistance to the exercise of power.
First, though, a note on the notion of government. Here, government does not refer to the political government of a nation state, a State or Federal government as such. Rather, it is used in the Foucaultian sense of government as the conduct of conduct, both of others and ourselves. According to Foucault:
Government must be allowed the very broad meaning which it had in the sixteenth century. "Government" did not refer only to political structures or the management of states; rather it designated the way in which the conduct of individuals or states might be directed: the government of children, of souls, of communities, of families, of the sick. It did not cover only the legitimately constituted forms of political or economic subjection, but also modes of action, more or less considered and calculated, which were designed to act upon the possibilities of action of other people. To govern, in this sense, is to structure the possible field of action of others (Foucault, 1982: 221).Government, as such, requires what Foucault calls rationalities of, or ways of thinking about, governance. And for Foucault, a particular mentality, that of governmentality, 'had become the common ground of all modern forms of political thought and action' (Miller and Rose 1990, p2; Foucault 1991). Governmentality is an 'ensemble formed by the institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific albeit complex form of power' (Foucault 1991, p.102). Foucault's suggestion that 'we live in an era of governmentality, first discovered in the eighteenth century' (Foucault 1991, p.103) means that the power of the 'state' is increasingly exercised in a 'governmental' way (as opposed to being exercised on behalf of the sovereign in a repressive and interdictory way).
... way of thinking about the nature and practice of government (who can govern; what governing is; what or who is governed) capable of making some form of that activity thinkable and practicable to both its practitioners and those on whom it is practised (Gordon 1991, p. 2).In other words, this is the discursive field in which the appropriate means and ends of government are expressed and which organise the way particular things such as unemployment, education, law and health are conceived of and understood (Miller and Rose 1990, p.5). Political rationalities such as classical liberalism, welfare liberalism and advanced or neo-liberalism are each characterised by a particular moral dimension (the terms and conditions under which power may be rightfully exercised), an epistemological dimension (particular understandings of governance and why things should or should not be subjected to governance) and a distinctive idiom (the manner in which these understandings and justifications are discussed) (Rose and Miller 1992, p.175; Beeson and Firth 1998, pp.216-218). In the case of higher education, the moral dimension was concerned originally with training a professional elite, then with extending the democratic rights of citizens, and more recently with strengthening the economic base of the nation and harnessing teaching and research effort in aid of international competition. Ideas about the nature of various intellectual and professional traditions, what constitutes citizenship and the relationship between citizenship and education, the relationship between education and growth, and the nature of international competition and the manner in which education can be exported and marketed are indicative of the different epistemological dimensions in the higher education rationality. The third characteristic, the distinctive idiom that renders the reality of education thinkable, has included talk about scholarship, then equal opportunity, and, now, national contribution, niche markets and branding.
Political rationalities, as the capacity to make the practice of government thinkable and practicable, need to be realised in actual measures of governing populations. The concerns of government need to be translated into ways of thinking and doing things (Rose and Miller 1992, pp.181-182). This translation is achieved via programs of government, those 'designs put forward by philosophers, government reports, committees of inquiry, White Papers, proposals and counterproposals by organisations of business, labour, finance, charities and professionals, that seek to configure specific locales and relations in ways thought desirable' (Rose and Miller 1992, p.181). Thus, in higher education, programs of government include ideas about what particular research is important, how much government support it should receive, and where and how it should occur. Income support programs for students include ideas about who should have access, and on what terms, how much support is necessary, and the terms and conditions under which it is available. Such programs translate and articulate the political rationalities of higher education into real, actual measures. However, programs remain at quite a general level, and to be implemented at the level of the everyday require mechanisms to connect 'the aspirations of authorities and the activities of individuals and groups' (Rose and Miller 1992, p.183). These 'humble and mundane mechanisms' (Rose and Miller 1992, p.183) of deployment are the technologies of government. Taking notes, making calculations, examinations, assessments, surveys, tables, graphs, training sessions, specialist vocabularies or jargon and building design are all technologies of government or 'strategies, techniques and procedures' helping to implement programs of government (Rose 1996, p.42; Rose and Miller 1992, p.183). In the case of higher education, funding mechanisms, selection criteria, exams, assignments, degree regulations and research protocols are just some of the specific technologies deployed to implement education policy.
The primary concern of this paper, then, is assessment as one mundane and humble technology of neo-liberal governance as it translates and articulates programs of governance in a neo-liberal political rationality. To do this, it is necessary, first, to outline some of the characteristics of neo-liberal government.
Radical changes in Western economies around the 1970s brought about a fundamental shift in the way in which nation states perceived themselves in a global context and a belief that national welfare pendulums had swung too far toward welfarism (Beeson and Firth 1998; Harris 2005; Harris 1999; Currie 2004; Rose 1996). Thus, we see the emergence of a new form of political rationality, neo-liberalism, a phenomenon Fitzsimons (2000, p.505) regards as 'the underpinning logic for the most recent wave of globalisation'. While still holding dear the key liberal values of freedom, autonomy and minimum state intervention, under a neo-liberal political rationality, the economic subsumes the social; the social becomes a form of the economic (Gordon 1991, p.43). This exemplifies the shift from the reliance on the truth claims of the expert knowledges of the social sciences to those of economics and accounting (Rose 1996, p.54). It is marked by increasing privatisation and marketisation as the mechanism of the market is applied to areas previously considered to be outside its realm. Furthermore, to repair the damage of welfare liberalism, individuals must increasingly become responsible for their own welfare; they must be enterprising subjects in an enterprising society engaging in enterprising economic endeavours; they must constitute a 'culture of enterprise' (Gordon 1991; Rose 1996, pp.54-56; Beeson and Firth 1998, pp.224-25).
At this time, countries such as Australia realised their nation states could no longer operate as a 'self-regulating and relatively self-contained national system' and that to be economically secure they needed to rise to the challenge of increasing international economic pressures and participate in international restructuring (Beeson and Firth 1998, p.222). Nation state responses to globalisation include 'a turning to markets instead of the state for answers, supply-side economics, privatisation, competition theory, the promotion of free trade and reduction of protective tariffs, and both macro and micro economic reform' (Porter and Vidovich 2000, p.452).
Higher education has not been untouched by neo-liberal attempts to make Australia more competitive in the global marketplace. Universities have become increasingly like corporations and developed strong commercial mentalities and practices. They are strongly encouraged to form strategic and economic alliances with business and industry. Students have become fee-paying customers, 'view[ing] universities in an instrumental way' (Currie et al 2003, p.12); courses are called upon to meet the needs of industry and the economy; and education has become a commodity for sale in the market place.
While globalising practices appeared in higher education some 30 years ago, they intensified in the approach to the 21st century. As Currie et al (2003, p.2) explain, there was a move from the education of an elite to mass education, a decrease in per capita government funding, greater institutional autonomy accompanied by greater accountability and a call for quality assurance. They note some 'common global trends' in universities in four areas, namely, 'governance (towards corporate managerialism); accountability (towards performance indicators and quality reviews); funding (towards privatisation, marketisation, and increased competition); and the use of new technologies (towards increased use of Internet, satellite television, and online teaching) (Currie et al 2003, p.3).
Having outlined neo-liberalism as a political rationality with particular programs and technologies aimed at producing active, enterprising, global subjectivities, it is now possible to investigate one technology in particular, namely assessment, that is reflecting and translating education programs into the everyday life of those whose subjectivity is formed by education discourse.
The term 'authentic' is originally attributed to Neumann and Archbald in their concept of authentic achievement (Cumming and Maxwell 1999, pp.178-79). This reflects the changing focus of assessment and renewed concern with better matching assessment, as a learning indicator, to intended learning outcomes. This was the new validity, rather than the predominant psychological theories of measurement (Cumming and Maxwell 1999, p.177). Neumann and Archbald's (1992, pp.72-74) criteria for authenticity are:
Authentic achievements would be contextualised, meaningful for students, motivational; they would rely on student production of knowledge via performance and disciplined inquiry, higher-order thinking and problem solving; and they would have value far beyond school, allowing the transfer of learning between not only different educational contexts, but also between education, the workplace and life (Cummings and Maxwell 1999, p.178; Riley and Stern, 1998, p.179). These achievements would 'emulate the "kinds of mastery demonstrated by successful adults"' (Neumann and Archbald 1992, pp.72-74 in Cummings and Maxwell 1999, p.178).
- Production of knowledge instead of reproduction or response only to the produced work of others;
- Disciplined inquiry, dependent on: a prior knowledge base (to be used to help produce knowledge); in-depth understanding (rather than superficial awareness); and integration - the production of knowledge requires the ability to "organise, synthesise, and integrate information in new ways", and
- Value beyond assessment - "aesthetic, utilitarian, or personal value".
These very positive, productive, constructive and active conceptions of 'authenticity' were soon attached not only to achievement, but to assessment. Wiggins, in criticism of traditional or typical testing, is attributed with being the first to do this (Terwilliger 1997, p.25; Herrington and Herrington 1998, p.308; Janesick 2001, p.2; Cummings and Maxwell 1999, p.178). There are several characteristics of Wiggins' authentic assessment as mentioned in the literature (Terwilliger 1997, pp.25-26; Herrington and Herrington 1998, p.308; and Janesick 2001, p.2). It suffices here to summarise one reading, namely Janesick's:
Once again the active, performance elements are clear, as is the necessity of equipping students for the real, complex multilayered world, testing higher order learning, going beyond knowing to doing (See also Terwilliger 1997, p.26; Berge, Ramaekers and Pilot 2004, pp.9, 80-82; Janesick 2001, pp.6-7, 80-81, 84, 110-11; Herrington and Herrington 1998, pp.307, 310; Puntis, Maughan and Beedle 2003, pp.2, 14; Cumming and Maxwell 1999, pp.177-178, 188; Wolf 1995, pp.93-95).
- It is realistic. [...] should follow closely the ways in which a person's abilities are "tested" in the real world.
- It requires judgment and innovation. Here the student must use knowledge and skills to solve problems.
- It asks the student to "do" the subject.
- It replicates or simulates actual "tests" in the workplace, personal life, and civic life.
- It assesses the student's ability and skills to effectively and efficiently use a repertoire of many skills to complete a problem or task.
- It allows many opportunities to practice (sic), rehearse, consult, get feedback, and refine actual performances and productions. [...] In other words, students must learn something and get better at doing the task at hand (Janesick 2001, p.2).
Since Wiggins' work in the 1980s and 1990s, the term 'authentic' has been enthusiastically taken up by educators and policy makers alike (Wolf 1995, p.88; Berge, Ramaekers and Pilot 2004, pp.1 and 9; Cumming and Maxwell 1999, p.177; Brindley 2001, p.393; Ashworth and Saxton 1990, p.3). The concepts of alternative assessment, performance-based assessment, authentic achievement, portfolio assessment and coursework assessment are all used as synonyms for authentic assessment (Riley and Stern 1998, p.178; Herrington and Herrington 1998, p.307; Torrance 1995, p.1). Furthermore, not all definitions are the same and this difference of interpretation can create confusion about this generic term (Terwilliger 1997, p.25; Torrance 1995, p.1; Berge Ramaekers and Pilot 2004, p.9; Linn, Baker and Dunbar 1991, p.178; Cumming and Maxwell 1999, p.184). Nevertheless, the essential elements of authentic assessment can be distilled into four categories (Herrington and Herrington 1998, pp.309-310):
At this point it is worth paying attention to the particular idiom in which authentic assessment is discussed. 'Authentic' conjures up notions of being genuine, real, valid, bona fide, reliable, dependable, realistic and accurate. These are all positive, 'good' things and it is very difficult to be against authenticity as this implies embracing the inauthentic, a rather illogical stance (Cumming and Maxwell 1999, p.178). Similarly, it is difficult to argue against 'real world' experience and application, higher order learning, motivation, and 'doing' - all very positive terms. And it would be a brave person indeed who did not wish our youth to develop into masterful and successful adults.
As mentioned, such changes are occurring in the particular context of increasing globalisation. The increased emphasis on assessment has been world wide (Torrance 1995b, p.ix; Broadfoot 1995, p.9; Linn, Baker and Dunbar 1991, p.15). And the driving force behind developments in international assessment is the 'urgent need to promote the learning of skills and competences that cannot be tested by more traditional techniques' (Broadfoot 1995, p.9). Increasingly, graduates are called upon to be 'job ready'. They are expected to be able to move seamlessly from university into the workplace, to make immediate contributions to the company, and to have transferable skills (Seagraves, Kemp and Osborne 1996, p.158). However, the situation into which graduates are expected to move is increasingly complex due to rapid technological developments, a much-changed labour market with emphasis on 'knowledge-intensive' work (Berge, Ramaekers and Pilot 2004, p.5; Broadfoot 1995, p.10). Desirable transferable skills now include 'problem-solving ability, person effectiveness, thinking skills and willingness to accept change' (Broadfoot 1995, p.10). As well as more and more people being encouraged to undertake higher education and to continue their educations, there is also a call for students to develop a lifelong love of learning (Broadfoot 1995, p.10; Seagraves, Kemp and Osborne 1996, p.157). Interestingly, coterminus with this, corporations, too, want to be seen as learning organisations and provide staff with opportunities to further their education, 'facilitate the learning of all its members and continuously transform[s] itself' (Seagraves, Kemp and Osborne 1996, p.158).
Thus far this discussion has centred on assessment as a technology of government in a neo-liberal political rationality, a particular way of thinking about government and the exercise of a very complex form of power. By way of conclusion, I want to turn to a specific instance of implementing alternative assessment. As the coordinator of a postgraduate co-operative education program designed to help students make the transition from university into the workplace, I was able to design, implement and evaluate the assessment for the five units involved in the program. As one assessment, students were required to not only give presentations, which is a reasonably typical piece of assessment, they were required to make initial, progress and final presentations. For each of these they received feedback from their peers, with the final feedback constituting the formal assessment. In order to do this, students were asked collectively to develop a set of criteria they thought were important for an effective presentation and to work out the scaling system most appropriate to the task. This was done in a workshop dedicated to this task and through a process of brainstorming, discussion and negotiation. Following the workshop, an assessment sheet was developed and trialed at the first presentation, modified in accordance with students' feedback and then used for the next two presentations.
From this experience two most significant observations are possible. First, as an assessment exercise it was not particularly effective as individual students tended to mark themselves quite harshly, but accord others top marks. Second, students found this a most confronting, challenging and frustrating experience, one that created significant angst. It was something completely new to them, completely outside their experiences of typical testing. In governmentality terms, this can be read as a form of resistance. If, like Foucault (1978, pp.94-95), we think of power as a network that 'functions in a society', as not being external to rule, with the rationality of power being characterised by interconnected tactics, then it follows that 'where there is power, there is resistance' (Foucault 1978, p.95). Power relationships 'depend[s] upon a multiplicity of points of resistance: these play the role of adversary, target, support, or handle in power relations [and are] present everywhere in the power network' (Foucault 1978, p.95).
While resistance is often seen in negative terms, as failure, there is another way of perceiving it. Drawing on the work of O'Malley (1996, p.312), a governmentality theorist, resistance is not a failure and, therefore, 'an obstacle to government'. Resistance is an engagement with rule, a positive and productive phenomenon, 'an integral part of and contributor to programs regarded as successful, and [may] be incorporated into programs rather than merely acting as an external source of program failure'(O'Malley 1996, p.313). While the students' confusion, anxiety and reluctance might be an artefact of a previous technology, namely typical testing, it also represents their serious attempts to grapple with, understand and engage with alternative assessment as a technology of governance. Such resistance can actually be constitutive of rule. From their engagement with this assessment it is now possible to adjust it so that it is better able to translate the education program and meet its governmental aims. This is much more than simply saying that the assessment method failed and needs to be adjusted. It signifies an active engagement of rule and resistance, of assessment and student, with rule being 'potentially destabilised and subjected to transformational politics' (O'Malley 1996, p.313). This has quite significant possibilities for higher education and the ways in which assessment and policy are developed and implemented, possibly as a much more open-ended, dialogic process than it is at present.
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|Author: Loraine Abernethie is the coordinator of a postgraduate cooperative education program at Murdoch University. She has a background in sociology with particular interests in governance, education and health related issues.
Dr Loraine Abernethie, Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Abernethie, L. (2006). .Authentic assessment as a neo-liberal technology of government In Experience of Learning. Proceedings of the 15th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 1-2 February 2006. Perth: The University of Western Australia. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2006/refereed/abernethie.html
Copyright 2006 Loraine Abernethie. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.