04 SES 11 C, Decision-Making, Cooperation And Other Paradoxes Of Promoting Inclusion
Based on an international collaborative research project entitled ‘Education Access under the Reign of Testing and Inclusion’ and a background paper for the UNESCO Futures of Education Initiative (Ydesen, et al., 2020), this paper addresses the paradoxes inherent to the implementation of assessment and inclusion agendas and their implications for student participation during the COVID-19 pandemic. We hereby aim to: i) map and analyse the paradoxes of assessment and inclusion, as it is in evidence in the selected national contexts (Argentina, China, Denmark, England (UK) and Israel); ii) explore how the COVID-19 pandemic affects student participation in light of the two agendas, and iii) draw conclusions about the implications for student participation with acknowledgement of the uncertainties, complexity and unpredictability of the world in which we live, and of the new technologies and multi-level governance structures intrinsic to current educational reform.
The paper makes a starting point from the observation that education today takes place between two competing agendas: an assessment agenda and an inclusion agenda. The global inclusion agenda gained prominence in 1994 when many countries ratified the Salamanca Statement on social and educational inclusion. Since then, efforts have been made to include all children, regardless of their backgrounds, in mainstream school systems and thus reduce the mechanisms of exclusion. The Salamanca Statement promotes universalism and international standards of social justice and equity for all individuals. However, despite the great value often attributed to inclusion in education policies, it remains an extremely complex goal to achieve and is often side-lined in favour of other policy priorities (Ainscow et al., 2006; Morton et al., 2013; Slee, 2018). For instance, the global assessment agenda has led to the widespread implementation and development of large-scale standardised tests in national education systems.
The paradoxes of assessment and inclusion arise through their seemingly divergent educational aims (Hamre et al., 2018). In general, inclusion supports diversity and possibilities of participation and learning for all students, and suggests that everybody can make a valuable contribution to their learning environment (Best et al., 2018). Whereas, assessment and testing, with their capacity to differentiate, demarcate and deselect, implies that education is principally for those who can contribute the ‘right’ knowledge in the ‘right’ way (Stobart, 2008). Consequently, standardised tests are often promoted as a tool to objectively secure meritocracy, that is, to identify the appropriate educational trajectory for every individual (Ydesen, 2011). Despite efforts of reconciling the schism between inclusion and assessment in both policy and practice (Hegarty, 2020), the ambiguities remain. At stake is not an assessment mechanism or an inclusion policy; rather, it is a conception of society, the definition of the other and the space we give to accept otherness, and thereby recognise, understand, and welcome differences.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the paradoxes between the assessment and inclusion agendas. Worldwide school closures and the shift to remote learning through digital tools have highlighted significant educational inequities in society and, with the widespread cancellation of standardised assessments, highlighted further the weaknesses in current models of student evaluation. But with an increased appreciation of the role of key workers in tackling this crisis, policymakers, practitioners and the general public have been forced to re-engage with questions on the purpose of public education.
This paper draws on the comparative analyses of data from five country case studies: Argentina, China, Denmark, England (UK) and Israel. For each case study, data have been generated from national-, regional- and school-level policy document analysis and qualitative semi-structured interviews with civil servants, school leaders, teachers and student representatives. These data have been collected prior to and during the school closures and, in some cases, following the reopening of limited school services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the multi-scalar governance complex in which our research is situated, we adopted a comparative theoretical framework that enabled exploration of assessment and inclusion policies and practices along three different axes: a vertical axis, which allows comparison across micro, meso and macro levels or scales; a horizontal axis, which allows comparison of similar policies and practices across sites, often with distinctly different consequences; and a transversal axis, which emphasises change over time and situates historically the processes or relations under consideration (Bartlett & Vavrus, 2018). Our qualitative multiple case study understands context as the interweaving of actors and objects throughout the research process. Consequently, meaning was made and remade through ‘the study of assemblages’ (Sobe & Kowalczyk, 2012) or, as Bartlett and Vavrus (2018) describe, ‘temporary, unpredictable and evolving social entities composed of heterogeneous components’ (p.194). From this perspective, each national case study – and each case study school within it – was analysed from different foci determined by the factors relevant for understanding the meanings produced, for instance, the educational culture, the education policies enacted, and the professional practices developed.
We find examples of ambiguities and tensions between the assessment and inclusion agendas in all five case countries. Our analysis shows that assessment and inclusion cannot be treated as two separate spheres, but could be defined as two complementary agendas, with layers of intersection and mutual influences between policies and schooling practices. In all the cases, the pandemic has caused considerable challenges for teachers and students. In particular, the transition to remote teaching and learning, with students’ unequal access to technology, has aggravated the digital gap and wider social inequalities. But it has also brought about new opportunities. For instance, in Denmark, there have been some positive experiences for students and teachers, including outdoor teaching, smaller class sizes, better use of school space and a reduction in teacher movement between classes. While, in Israel, the use of technology has seemingly been integrated into schooling overnight thereby implementing pre-pandemic educational plans expeditiously. These changes have certainly been contingent on the policy response to COVID-19 in general and the national funding situation in particular. Beyond this, the global health crisis undoubtedly offers the opportunity to review our current models of schooling, especially those that hinder the achievement of equivalent trajectories for all children and young people. We conclude our paper with recommendations for policy and practice and potential questions for future research.
Ainscow, M., Booth, T., & Dyson, A. (2006). Inclusion and the standards agenda: Negotiating policy pressures in England. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 10(4-5), 295-308. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603110500430633 Bartlett, L., & Vavrus, F. (2018). 11 Rethinking the concept of “context” in comparative research. In R. Gorur, S. Sellar, G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds), World yearbook of education 2019: Comparative methodology in the era of big data and global networks, 106. Routledge. Best, M., Corcoran, T., & Slee, R. (Eds.). (2018). Who’s in? Who’s out? What to do about inclusive education. Brill Sense. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004391000 Hamre, B. Morin, A., & Ydesen, C. (2018). The tension field between testing and inclusion: Introducing a research endeavour. In B. Hamre, A. Morin, & C. Ydesen (Eds.), Testing and Inclusive schooling – International challenges and opportunities (pp. x-xviii). Routledge. Hegarty, S. (2020). Inclusion and learning assessment: Policy and practice. Background paper prepared for the 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000373661 Morton, M., Higgins, N., MacArthur, J. & Phillips, H. (2013). Introduction to the special issue – making inclusive education happen: Ideas for sustainable change. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 17(8), 753-761. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2011.602289 Slee, R. (2018). Inclusion and education: Defining the scope of inclusive education. Think piece prepared for the 2020 Global education monitoring report. Sobe, N. W., & Kowalczyk, J. (2012). The problem of context in comparative education research. ECPS - Educational, Cultural and Psychological Studies, 06, 55–74. https://doi.org/10.7358/ecps-2012-006-sobe Stobart, G. (2008). Testing times: The uses and abuses of assessment. Routledge. Ydesen, C. (2011). The rise of high-stakes testing in Denmark (1920-1970). Peter Lang. Ydesen, C., Acosta, F., Milner, A. L., Ruan, Y., Aderet-German, T., Caride, E. G., & Hansen, I. S. (2020). Inclusion in testing times: Implications for citizenship and participation. Background paper for the Futures of Education initiative, UNESCO. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000374084
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