The Social Purposes of Learning Assessment

Arthur S Abulencia


ABSTRACT: Assessment has been studied by many researchers and educators from the prism of educational theories which means a purely instructional or pedagogical analysis of assessment. But there is an open space in which learning assessment could be further scrutinized using sociological perspective, so that we could explore and expose the social roles of assessment. This discussion is engaged in the analysis of the social consequences of assessment and its resistances from the various participants of teaching and learning process. Assessment has been widely used for accountability, control, and sorting mechanism of society to distribute the limited social positions that are available. Thus, only those students who are properly equipped with knowledge, values, and competencies are the ones who excel in the assessment devices. Students in the lower echelon of society are left with limited opportunities for social mobility and employment, due to their limited capacity to pass through this filtering machine called assessment. So, there some manifest and latent resistances that students as well as teachers about the negative consequences of assessment. Thus, assessment is not only a system to improve learning, account teachers, and schools but rather is an instrument of academic segregation and tracking. Assessment should be viewed beyond the walls of classroom by looking at the close but intricate linkage of assessment and society. Since assessment is a social fact, therefore, we need to consider how it is developed and practiced in everyday life of teachers and students. Education is never neutral, according to Paulo Freire, and also assessment is can never be neutral. It is resisted by some sector of society, but it is still a very strong mechanism to classify and rank people in a society. It serves a purpose in perpetuating a society’s present order as well as a site to perturb the existing order by its results.

KEY WORD: Assessment, social roles and purposes of assessment, academic performance, and resistance of assessment.

Assistant Professor Arthur S. Abulencia is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences Education PNU (Philippine Normal University), Taft Avenue, Manila 1000, Philippine. He can be reached at: and

How to cite this article? Abulencia, Arthur S. (2011). “The Social Purposes of Learning Assessment” in ATIKAN: Jurnal Kajian Pendidikan, Vol.1(1) Juni, pp.105-122. Bandung, Indonesia: Minda Masagi Press owned by ASPENSI in Bandung, ISSN 2088-1290.

Chronicle of the article: Accepted (April 11, 2011); Revised (May 19, 2011); and Published (June 5, 2011).

Full Text:



Afflerbach, P. (2002). “The Road to Folly and Redemption: Perspectives on the Legitimacy of High-Stakes Testing” in Reading Research Quarterly, Vol.37, Iss.3.

Ballantine, J. (1983). The Sociology of Education: A Systematic Analysis. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2nd edition.

Biesta, G. (2008). Good Education in an Age of Measurement: On the Need to Reconnect with the Question of Purpose in Education. Stirling, Scotland, UK: Springer, the Stirling Institute of Education, University of Stirling.

Broadfoot, P.M. (1996). Education, Assessment, and Society. Buckingham: Open University Press.

CATQ [Committee on Assessment and Teacher Quality]. (2000). Tests and Teaching Quality: Interim Report Committee on Assessment and Teacher Quality. New York: Board on Testing and Assessment, National Research Council, National Academy Press.

Corbett, M. (2008). “The Edumometer: The Commodification of Learning from Galton to the PISA” in Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, Volume 6, Number 1.

Dearden, R.F. (1979). “The Assessment of Learning” in British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol.27, No.2. London, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

EFA [Education for All]. (2000). Assessments: Philippine Country Reports. Philippines: EFA.

Farganis, J. (1993). Readings in Social Theory. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Glaser, R. & E. Silver. (1994). “Assessment, Testing, and Instruction: Retrospect and Prospect” in Review of Research in Education, Vol.20, pp.393-419.

Gordon, E.W. (1995). “Toward an Equitable System of Educational Assessment” in The Journal of Negro Education, Vol.64, Iss.3.

Hanushek, E.A. & M.E. Raymond. (2005). “Does School Accountability Lead to Improved Student Performance?” in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol.24, No.2, pp.297–327.

Harlen, W. (2007). “Designing a Fair and Effective Assessment System”. A paper presented at the 2007 BERA Annual Conference as part of the ARG Symposium, Future Directions for Student Assessment, University of Bristol.

Johnson, H.C. Jr., D.M. Rhodes & R.E. Rumery. (1975). “The Assessment of Teaching in Higher Education: A Critical Retrospect and a Proposal, Part I, a Critical Retrospect” in Higher Education, Vol.4, No.2, pp.173-199.

Madaus, G.F. (1993). “A National Testing System, Manna from Above? A Historical/Technological Perspective” in Educational Assessment.

Mansell, W. & M. James. (2009). Assessment in Schools, Fit for Purpose? A Commentary by the Teaching and Learning Research Programme. London: Economic and Social Research Council, Teaching and Learning Research Programme, the Assessment Reform Group.

Maylone, N. (2002). “The Relationship of Poverty Indicators and District Scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program Tests”. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA: Eastern Michigan University.

McDonnell, L.M. (1994a). Policymakers' Views of Student Assessment. Santa Monica, California: RAND.

McDonnell, L.M. (1994b). “Assessment Policy as Persuasion and Regulation” in American Journal of Education, Vol.102, No.4. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Ollman, B. (n.y.). Why So Many Exams? A Marxist Response. New York, USA: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Pellegrino, J. (1999). “The Evolution of Educational of Educational Assessment: Considering the Past and Imagining the Future”. Paper presented in the sixth Annual William H. Angoff Memorial Lecture at Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey.

Pellegrino, J.W. (2001). Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment. Manila, Philippine: Committee on the Foundations of Assessment, Board on Testing and Assessment, Center for Education, National Research Council.

Ravela, P. et al. (2009). “The Educational Assessments that Latin America Needs”. Working Paper Series, No.40. Washington, DC: PREAL.

Ritzer, G. (1996). Sociological Theory. New York: The McGraw-Hill, Inc., 4th edition.

Schaefer, R. & R. Lamm. (1995). Sociology. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 5th edition.

Shepard, L. (2000). “The Role of Assessment in a Learning Culture” in Educational Researcher, 29, p.7.

Shor, I. (1980). Critical Teaching and Everyday Life. Boston, Massachusetts: South End Press.

Skidmore, P. (2003). Beyond Measure: Why Educational Assessment is Failing the Test? London, UK: DEMOS.

UNITEC. (2003). The Relationship between Critical Pedagogy and Assessment in Teacher Education. New York: Radical Pedagogy, Early Childhood Teacher Education, School of Education.

USA [United States of America] Department of Education Report. (2008). Great Expectations: Holding Ourselves and Our Schools Accountable for Results. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Education.