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Education Research International
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 382465, 11 pages
Research Article

How Teachers Understand and Use Power in Alternative Assessment

Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Singapore 637616

Received 11 October 2011; Revised 17 January 2012; Accepted 23 January 2012

Academic Editor: James P. Spillane

Copyright © 2012 Kelvin H. K. Tan. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


“Alternative assessment” is an increasingly common and popular discourse in education. The potential benefit of alternative assessment practices is premised on significant changes in assessment practices. However, assessment practices embody power relations between institutions, teachers and students, and these power relationships determine the possibility and the extent of actual changes in assessment practices. Labelling a practice as “alternative assessment does not guarantee meaningful departure from existing practice. Recent research has warned that assessment practices in education cannot be presumed to empower students in ways that enhance their learning. This is partly due to a tendency to speak of power in assessment in undefined terms. Hence, it would be useful to identify the types of power present in assessment practices and the contexts which give rise to them. This paper seeks to examine power in the context of different ways that alternative assessment is practiced and understood by teachers. Research on teachers’ conceptions of alternative assessment is presented, and each of the conceptions is then analysed for insights into teachers’ meanings and practices of power. In particular, instances of sovereign, epistemological and disciplinary power in alternative assessment are identified to illuminate new ways of understanding and using alternative assessment.