Joshua Brown, the editor of Research & Practice in Assessment (published by the Virginia Assessment Group), wrote in his From The Editor column in the Winter 2011 issue this interesting idea about assessment paradigms:
Whereas Western art focuses upon the freedom to move images around on paper or canvas to create fixed patterns, origami ignores the separation between the image and the paper. The paper becomes part of the image, and is twisted and folded until it is the picture, not merely the surface on which it lies. -John D. Barrow, The Artful Universe
Just as the artist of origami has a different approach to perceiving the relationship between image and paper, the thematic focus of this issue invites inquiry as to whether assessment might adopt similar connecting paradigms. In establishing and executing assessment initiatives, there are places where our focus is predominantly one of separation – our rubrics have multiple levels of competencies, item correlation allows us to maximize the efficiency of our scales, and purpose statements or objectives are arranged in a structured hierarchy. We strive for increased validity and reliability, but even good research techniques possess implications regarding their social, psychological, and educational contexts. There is an ongoing tension between focusing on the trees while at the same time giving appropriate attention to the forest.
As such, it is worth considering, to what extent can assessment also function as a mechanism that connects broader realms rather than one which at times is noted for solely focusing on measurement or standardization? In addition to its dominant descriptive or defining properties, is it possible for assessment to also possess generative properties? [bold added here for emphasis] I am not positing these philosophical assessment questions to establish rigid dichotomies. In fact, it may be more beneficial for me to ask these of my own assessment practices. While aiming to achieve the utilitarian ideals of efficiency and effectiveness, is it also possible for me to construct my assessments in a manner that advances good human behavioral, educational, and social theory? Is it really possible for me to look at a Scantron sheet in a manner that resembles the philosophical paradigm of the origami artist?
The paradigm of the origami artist … assessment as generative, as learning … paper and image as one … learningteachingassessmentlearningteachingassessmentlearning.
This poses assessment as a part of learning; learning as a part of assessment; the two entwined in meaningful ways. Not assessment of learning, but for and as learning.
From here on out I will see myself as an origami artist, connecting paper and image to become one, to generate, to advance, to learn. In fact, perhaps the best use of a Scantron sheet might be to fold it into a bird so that it might fly away … far, far away.