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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Growth, Personalization, and Dialogical Exchange in High School


Summative assessment in most American high schools consists of synoptic scores which promote peer ranking through grade point averages. This paper explores the ways in which one alternative high school (Progressive Secondary School) critically subverts the discourse of traditional assessment methods by emphasizing personal growth rather than comparative scores, and using assessment to facilitate ongoing dialogue between students, teachers, and parents. Instead of getting letter grades and taking standardized tests, students at Progressive receive personalized narrative evaluations and rubrics, and must publicly defend their work in biennial presentations. Utilizing critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2003), I show how Progressive’s alternative assessment methods encompass various genres, allow for multiple voices, and bring evaluation into what Habermas has labeled the “public sphere”. Ultimately, I argue that a shift in the overall discourse of assessment can lead to a deeper shift in perception about the uses and value of evaluation in schools.

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