Inclusive Assessment: The Spirit Versus the Letter of the Law

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Inclusive Assessment: The Spirit Versus the Letter of the Law

Inclusiveness is a right enshrined in the South African Constitution. The reality for many South African children, however, is that they are compelled to complete their schooling in a language that is not their mother-tongue, through educational institutions and in educational systems that privilege certain cultures, languages and genders over others. In the wake of the 2015 student protests, discussions around what it means to decolonise South African education have gained traction, with the recognition that questions around inclusivity need to be addressed if this right is to be protected.

There is a substantial body of literature that suggests that in an exam-driven education system like South Africa’s, it is assessment that drives teaching and learning. Thus, in order to truly achieve the social cohesion at which the decolonisation project is aimed, this paper will argue that it is imperative for assessment organisations, in their moderation of examination papers, to remain true to the spirit of the law rather than simply to the letter of it, when dealing with questions of bias. Umalusi, the organisation responsible for the quality assurance of South African Grade 12 examinations, employs a moderation tool that requires that examinations be free of any form of bias. It is possible, however, for an examination paper, while being compliant with the letter of the law, as codified in the moderation tool, to nevertheless violate the principle that the instrument was designed to protect. So long as compliance to the tool’s stated criteria is valued above genuine engagement with the ethical considerations underpinning those criteria, the efficacy of the tool is reduced.

This paper explores why, despite having been declared free of bias by the Umalusi moderation tool, data pertaining to achievement in the Independent Examination Board’s Visual Arts papers seems to indicate gender bias.

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IAEA paper.docx Peter Ruddock .docxruDownload