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Education, Assessment, and the Desire for Dissonance


Yusef Waghid and Nuraan Davids

Education, Assessment, and the Desire for Dissonance aims to address the contentious practice of assessment in schools and universities within a poststructuralist educational paradigm. Within the theoretical paradigm of Foucault’s (1994) notions of governmentality, subjectification and dissonance, the book examines why, through which and in which ways (how) educational assessment should unfold considering the challenges of globalized and cosmopolitan dimensions of educational change that have beset educational institutions. Waghid and Davids show how conceptual derivatives of Foucauldian governmentality, in particular the notions of power, panopticon and surveillance, dispositive, freedom and resistance—as relational concepts—affect assessment in universities and schools. The authors argue why universities and schools cannot be complacent or non-responsive to current understandings and practices of assessment. In the main, the authors contend that a Foucauldian notion of powerful, subjectified and dissonant assessment can, firstly, be extended to an Agambenian (2011) notion of a profane, denudified and rhythmic form of assessment; and secondly, be enhanced by a Derridian (1997) idea of friendship that bridges a Foucauldian view of governmental assessment with an Agambenian view of ethical assessment. Friendship allows people to act responsibly towards one another—that is, teachers and students acting responsibility towards one another—and resonates with an ongoing pursuit of rhythmic assessment practices. Such a form of assessment opens up an attentiveness to the incalculable and unexpected encounters that bear the responsibility of acting with one another. The authors conclude that an assessment with teaching and learning can transcend the limitations of an assessment of learning and an assessment for learning.

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Chapter 5. Against Metrics and Measurement: A Foucauldian Perspective


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South African forms of assessment, besides having been included in some international benchmarking techniques, have seemingly succumbed to the overwhelming use of measurement. This has been fundamentally due to simultaneous processes. One such process is the external pressure to participate in international testing, such as PIRLS or TIMMS, as well as the ongoing desire to join PISA. The other stems from the shift away from outcomes-based education (OBE), which has seen a return to traditional forms of testing and a return to teaching for testing. In as much as attempts have been made to move away from measurement and metrics, assessment in South Africa remains mostly connected to control and predictability, as commonly encountered in international trends in assessment. In short, assessment vis-à-vis metrics and measurement has largely been relationally connected to the exercise of power relationships that subvert individual subjectivity in a Foucauldian sense.

We begin this chapter by focusing our attention on PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, implemented by the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) since 2000, in particular its global assessment ‘technology’ in measuring students’ academic performances (achievements) on the basis of quantifiable metrics and measurement. In the main, our argument is to show how dehumanizing metrics/measurement ← 67 | 68 → of student assessment is—that is, a form of technical rationality reduced to “a tyranny of numbers … and numeric logic to all...

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