23 SES 04 B, Educational Research and Policy
Parallel Paper Session
The presentation argues for the need to develop more complex perspectives and tools in the context of a growing tendency in current education research towards more narrow and policy-functional approaches. A context like this, where a perspective centred on ‘what works’ and RCTs as gold standard seems to dominate, involves the risk of creating an imaginary and oversimplified field in order to respond to immediate policy demands.
To illustrate the richness that a more complex approach might contribute, the author explores the way in which Itamar Even-Zohar’s (1990) polysystems theory illuminates a complex problem in education policy and practice in a different light. Instead of the traditional isolated, closed and homogeneous analysis of a static monosystem, this theory ‘intends to account for how a system operates both "in principle" and "in time”’ (1990: 11) and understands a system as an open, changing and heterogeneous structure. This is what the author understands as a polysystem, ‘… a multiple system, a system of various systems which intersect with each other and partly overlap (…), yet functioning as one structured whole, whose members are interdependent’ (1990: 11).
Formative approaches to assessment have spread around the globe in the last decades in contexts as diverse as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Barbados, Canada, Israel, Portugal, Belgium, Hong Kong, Iran, Chile, some Francophone African countries and the Netherlands (see for example Tierney and Charland, 2007; Hodgson and Pyle, 2010). In what seems to be another ‘research epidemic’ (Steiner-Khamsi, 2004), AfL has been exported in the shape of policies that have been piloted and/or implemented at an international level. Although there is a significant amount of research in the field and the positive effects of the approach are recognised by research participants, its feasibility in terms of wide-scale policies is still an issue that has been criticized (but not yet addressed) by researchers. These developments and their unsolved contradictions are also widespread in European literature (see for example Verhoeven and Devos, 2005; Nunes, 2004; Perrenoud, 1993).
The author argues that this research gap cannot be filled through the consideration of one specific point in the system, schools or teachers for example, as such an approach would ignore the processes of contestation and power struggles between the ambits of policymaking, teacher education, heads of schools, teachers, students, parents and mass media, just to mention some. A broader perspective is thus needed, one that allows the observation and interpretation of the interaction between systems and the way in which discourses on assessment circulate and are discussed by the social actors inside those systems. Even-Zohar’s theory offers a good tool to observe this problem with its inherent complexity, consistent in principle with Ball’s idea of policy as text and discourse (Ball, 1990 and 1994; Gale, 2001).
Relevant conclusions are offered in terms of a critical analysis of how policy in education is currently developed and disseminated, revealing the ideological and political component of assessment policy agendas; and of the place of education research in this context.
Ball, Stephen J. (1990). Politics and policy making in education. Explorations in policy sociology. London: Routledge. Ball, Stephen J. (1994). Education Reform: ACritical and Post-Structural Approach. Buckingham: Open University Press. Even-Zohar, Itamar (1990). ‘Polysystem Theory’. Poetics Today, 11 (1), 9 – 26. Gale, Trevor (2001). Critical policy sociology: historiography, archaeology and genealogy as methods of policy analysis. Journal of Education Policy, 16:5, 379-393. Hodgson, Claire; Pyle, Katie (2010). A literature review of assessment for learning in science. UK National Foundation for Educational Research. Nunes, A. (2004). Portfolios in the EFL classroom: Disclosing an informed practice. ELT Journal, 58: 4, 327-335. Perrenoud, Philippe (1993). Touche pas à mon évaluation! Pour une approche systémique du changement pédagogique. Mesure et évaluation en éducation, 16:1-2, 107-132. Potter, J. and Wetherell, M. (1995). ‘Analyzing Discourse’, in Bryman, A. and Burgess, G. (editors). Analyzing Qualitative Data, 2nd edition. London: Routledge. Steiner-Khamsi, Gita (ed.) (2004). The global politics of educational borrowing and lending. New York and London: Teachers College, Columbia University. Tierney, Robin and Charland, Julie (2007). Stocks and Prospects: Research on Formative Assessment in Secondary Classrooms. Online Submission, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, April 11. Van Dijk, T. A. (1999). Ideología: un enfoque multidisciplinario. Barcelona: Gedisa. Van Dijk, Teun (2008). ‘Principles of critical discourse analysis’. In: Wetherell, M., Taylor, S. and Yates, S. Discourse Theory and Practice. 8th edition. London: SAGE. pp. 300 – 317. Verhoeven, J. C. & Devos, G. (2005). School assessment policy and practice in Belgian secondary education with specific reference to vocational education and training. Assessment in Education, 12:3, 255-274.
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