My generative term for this week is “assessments.” In the report titled “America’s Perfect Storm,” we read about the perfect storm of “divergent skill distributions among U.S. population groups, a changing economy, and demographic trends of a growing, more diverse population.” (Kirsch, 2007, page 2). The authors warn that if changes are not made our society could become more polarized, i.e. a high-wage earning minority with high levels of education and skills verses a low-wage majority with low levels of education and skills-- potentially threating our nation’s economic well-being and at worst, our democracy.
However, what interested me most about the report were not the predictions and prescriptions, but the assessments or surveys used to substantiate the authors’ arguments:
· International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS)
· Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA),
· Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALLS) survey
What I could discern about these assessments and surveys is that they are based upon the cognitive-psychological view of literacy. They are designed to inform policy makers about the effectiveness of their nation’s educational system using comparative, decontextualized, skills based, quantifiable “measures.” As an engineer, I am used to these types of assessments since they are a part of an engineer’s normal discourse. Nevertheless, I am no longer confident that these assessments should be the primary means to inform policy makers.
In the Belfiore book we are reminded that “context” in social practice theory has dramatically extended what’s important to consider in understanding the meanings of texts and literacy practices (Belfiore, 2004, p 254). This is particularly important if we want to better understand, and assess, the literacy levels of those who are disenfranchised living within our nation’s borders. Additionally, this same logic should be applied from a global perspective. The IALS assesses “the 20 countries which account for over 50 per cent of the world’s GDP” (OEDC, 2000 p iii), but what about the other 173 countries (http://www.un.org/en/members/index.shtml) that constitute the bottom 50 percent of the world’s GDP?