In order to understand why we assess students and teachers we must reflect on its purpose. Depending on what theoretical framework a person situates the education system in he/she may have varying perspectives on the purpose of assessment. Historically, assessment is rooted in theories of scientific management and modernism. Scientific management emphasized the necessity “to plan ahead, keep records, write down policies, specialize, be decisive, and keep your span of control to about six people” (Perrow, 1989, p. 42). Now classrooms and staff rarely consist of only six people; but the idea of establishing control through record keeping is still evident within the organization of schools today. For example, principals conduct teacher performance appraisals and teachers record students’ academic achievement using report cards.
Modernists argued that an organization needed to be based around empirical knowledge which as a result “places a strong emphasis on the necessity for the organization to systematically gather information, facts, or data for purposes of optimizing decision making” (Gergen & Thatchenkery, 2004, p. 232). Based on these modernist assumptions the Ontario Ministry of Education mandates the data collection of students’ academic achievements. Thus, I would argue that the current practice of assessing or evaluating students and teachers was based on the historical construction of the modernist framework to establish control within an organization.
However, in the Ontario Ministry of Education (2010) Growing Success document, one can see how the education system is changing in light of postmodernist perspectives on the constructions of organizations. Postmodernists argue that we must transition “to replace the scientific emphasis on ‘the single best account’ with a multiplicity of constructions” (Gergen & Thatchenkery, 2004, p. 237). To reflect this shift, the Ontario Ministry of Education (2010) has mandated that teachers utilize assessments that “are ongoing, varied in nature, and administered over a period of time to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate the full range of their learning” (p. 6). As such, the organization of the system has reflected a shift that students’ academic achievement should not be based on solely on one single test as would be supported within a modernist framework. Instead, teachers should evaluate students based on multiple assessments.
Likewise, the Ministry of Education has acknowledged within their educational practice that a prescriptive and universal construction of effective practices related to assessment is necessary for consistency but not enough to suit the needs of all school boards. As such, the Ontario Ministry of Education (2010) is “recognizing that the needs and circumstances of individual boards vary widely, the policy outlined in this document provides flexibility for boards to develop some locally focused guidelines and implementation strategies within the parameters for consistency set by the ministry” (p. 2). Such a stance on the administration of assessment policies is reflective of Greenfield’s (1973) theory that “The drive to see the organization as a single kind of entity with a life of its own apart from the perceptions and beliefs of those involved in it blinds us to its complexity and variety of organizations people create around themselves” (p. 571). Thus, despite providing a prescriptive and universal strategy for schools in Ontario, the Ministry of Education acknowledges the importance of developing administrative practices which are reflective of local needs.
In conclusion, despite the fact that we are assessing students based on precedents set by historical constructions of organizations within scientific management, contemporary practices of assessment strategies are beginning to reflect postmodern perspectives.
Gergen, K. J., & Thatchenkery, T. J. (2004). Organization science as social construction. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 40(2), 228-249.
Greenfield, T. B. (1973). Organizations as social inventions: Rethinking assumptions about change. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 9(5), 551-573.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing success: assessment, evaluation, and reporting in Ontario schools. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
Perrow, C. (1989). The short and glorious history of organization theory. In G. Morgan (Ed.), Creative organization theory: A resourcebook (pp. 41-48). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. (Original work published 1973)