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The politics of evidence assessment under the spotlight

The politics of evidence assessment under the spotlight at inaugural

What counts as evidence of student success, for whom and for what goal – are questions all educators need to be asking in this current climate, says University of Waikato Education Professor Bronwen Cowie.

Citing PISA, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, Professor Cowie considers the influence of one-size-fits-all global testing regimes and whether they work for New Zealand students and teachers.

Professor Cowie says New Zealand’s average PISA scores in mathematics, reading and science declined in the 2012 PISA round compared with 2009, and its international ranking also declined relative to other countries. Some commentators have expressed concern at this trend while others are querying the validity and influence of PISA. “It is a concern that government responses to such results can be to narrow the curriculum and methods used to generate evidence of learning,” she says.

For her upcoming Inaugural Professorial Lecture The politics of evidence: Assessment agenda, Professor Cowie will consider the influence of powerful global testing regimes on the one hand, and of information on student learning that is generated moment-to-moment in classrooms, on the other. She will argue that it is important to understand how policies and practices that span multiple organisational contexts get taken up in local settings, and how, in turn, these settings have their own politics and practices.

Focusing on student-teacher classroom experience, Professor Cowie notes that New Zealand educators have worked hard to ensure what they teach and assess considers the local cultural context and knowledge of the learner. Qualitative rather than quantitative evidence, initiatives to engage with families and communities during, not just at the end of learning, and locally relevant curriculum topics are examples. This New Zealand focus has been on creating flexible, relevant and meaningful teaching and learning experiences. The ‘globalisation of curriculum’ based on economic-driven forces threatens such initiatives, says Professor Cowie.

Professor Cowie hopes her lecture will raise contentious questions for educators interested in the agenda driving current educational decision-making. “The major question that needs to be asked is - what counts as evidence of students’ learning? What are the implications of this global political activity? What are teachers and students perspectives on this matter?”

Professor Cowie is the Director of the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research based in the Faculty of Education. Her Inaugural Professorial Lecture in on Tuesday 20 May at 6pm at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato, Gate 2B, Knighton Road, Hamilton. (The Opus Bar is open from 5pm).


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