Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Assessment for social justice and the policies and practices of professional certification: Criticallearning for life and work in a complex and just world (#176)

Jan McArthur 1
  1. Lancaster University, Bailrigg, United Kingdom

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

This paper considers the importance of summative assessment, particularly professional certification of fitness to practice, for the social justice purposes of higher education.  Situated within the field of critical pedagogy it therefore rests on a commitment to the relationship between higher education and broader social justice.

The paper forms part of a larger study on Assessment for Social Justice, which has taken inspiration from work on ‘assessment for learning’ that foregrounds assessment as one of the key drivers of student learning.  Adapting this notion, I suggest that if student learning within higher education should contribute to greater social justice, then assessment plays a critical role in determining whether students both learn justly and learn about social justice. 

There has been considerable work in recent years directed at more dialogical, useful and just forms of formative assessment.  However, the summative aspect of certification of fitness to practice receives far less attention, partly because so much of this is determined by professional body requirements.  One way of trying to incorporate a broader sphere of student achievements into the summative, end-of-degree point of assessment has been through the notion of graduate attributes.  However, I argue that it would be more fruitful to work directly on changing certification policies and practices.  Analysis using the critical theory of Axel Honneth and Theodor Adorno suggests that the focus on graduate attributes may actually perpetuate taken-for-granted assumptions and repressive practices in the area of actual certification of fitness to practice, and draw an artificial divide between the moment of certification and the importance of ongoing learning. Drawing on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach to social justice I will suggest that nothing short of a reconstitution of the notion of fitness to practice within professional domains can ensure HE fulfils its social justice role. 

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

  This paper directly addresses the first conference theme by considering the role that summative assessment and the professional recognition/certification of learning plays in the ongoing professional practices of graduates.  It seeks to rethink the boundaries between formative and summative assessment and between short term certification and longer term ongoing learning in professional practice.  The third conference theme is also addressed in the critical discussion of the value of graduate attributes as a way of acknowledging wider student achievement and fitness for professional practice.  While sympathetic to the aspirations of graduate attributes, the paper considers whether a rethinking of the formal processes of certification may better achieve such aspirations, particularly when understood through a social justice lens.