Alternative democratic assessment in PETE : an action-research study exploring risks, challenges and solutions

Lorente, E. and Kirk, D. (2013) Alternative democratic assessment in PETE : an action-research study exploring risks, challenges and solutions. Sport, Education and Society, 18 (1). pp. 77-96. ISSN 1357-3322 (

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Assessment is an integral feature of the work of all Higher Education institutions. It is, moreover, a process that makes transparent the power relations and hierarchical structures that are part of the fabric of academic fields and disciplines. The importance of assessment as a high stakes practice is increasingly being recognised, with a movement towards alternative practices driven by a broad range of forces, including perversely the corporatisation of the university. In recognition of these powerful trends towards alternative assessment and the marked absence of published research on this topic in physical education teacher education (PETE), the purpose of this study is to reveal some lessons learned through action research by a teacher educator as she sought to apply alternative, democratic assessment practices in a PETE programme. The study aimed to reflect on and deconstruct current educational assessment processes and principles and to investigate what happens in a pedagogical process that is not only based on teacher–student agreement, dialogue, mutual respect, shared decision-making and personal responsibility, but also is accompanied by forms of assessment that are consistent with these democratic principles. We consider briefly some of the literature that has informed our thinking about alternative forms of assessment in Higher Education, with a particular focus on student participation in assessment. In this context we consider some strategies for participative assessment and some of the benefits, risks and challenges that have been proposed by researchers. We outline the methodology of the study, noting that this long-term action research project was carried out within the context of the Shared and Formative Assessment Network before presenting the main findings and discussion, and some lessons learned from reflecting on this study. We conclude that exploration and implementation of alternative forms of assessment is one crucially important site for challenging the process of corporatisation of the university and its undesirable and often unintended effects.


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