This file was prepared for electronic distribution by the inforM staff. Questions or comments should be directed to email@example.com. CHAPTER THREE WHAT IS FEMINIST ASSESSMENT? BY JOAN POLINER SHAPIRO Although the central focus of "The Courage to Question" was to investigate exactly what and how students were learning in women's studies classes, another fascinating area of inquiry appeared simultaneously. The parallel narrative that emerged involved the process that faculty members and students eventually adopted for gathering information about student learning in their programs. It was a story that members of the National Assessment Team (NATs) and the project director began to record from the very first time they met as a group in the fall of 1989. While there was no question that the primary function of the National Assessment Team was to instruct faculty members in assessment theories, strategies, and methods, its ancillary function was to formulate some broad-based principles about feminist assessment growing from the evaluative process itself on the different campuses. In an early session, the NATs determined that there would be different forms of assessment on each site rather than a standard form of measurement. The women's studies and gender studies program directors concurred. They and the NATs judged that the context would drive the assessment criteria. We all felt that, if provided a wealth of diverse assessment approaches, women's studies faculty members and students would select methods appropriate for their particular site. It also was thought that, given the common knowledge base of feminist scholarship, feminist pedagogy, and feminist research methodology, there would be enough similarities discovered in the assessment process and products without the need for a standard instrument. Workshops were held by the NATs that presented a range of diverse forms of assessment. The measures and techniques introduced included: * institutional profile data * historical document analysis * student evaluation of courses * surveys (structured and unstructured) * portfolios * individual interviews and/or group ones (collective conversations) * journals, individual and/or group (a dialogic journal) * self-assessment * performance assessment * feminist classroom observations (sometimes compared with regular classroom observations) * course syllabi analysis. For the purposes of validity, different forms of triangulation were used to assess this project. According to Sharon Merriam, triangulation means "using multiple investigators, multiple sources of data, or multiple methods to confirm the emerging findings." Multiple measures for assessment were deemed important to provide one form of triangulation. Program directors, their faculty members, and students chose from the array of approaches and techniques the kinds of assessment appropriate for their sites. Their choices were very much guided by the resources available to them on a given campus--extra help to carry out the assessment process, released time provided or not provided, administrative support for women's studies, and the political realities of the site. Another form of triangulation used in this study focused on multiple perspectives, and it therefore became important to hear diverse voices. Participants on a given site took into account as many of the voices--of students, of faculty members, of administrators, and of alumnae/i--as were applicable for their context. While the focus was on what students learned in women's studies or gender studies classrooms, varied perspectives for understanding the learning environment were deemed essential. GUIDING FEMINIST ASSESSMENT PRINCIPLES The guiding principles of feminist assessment that emerged by the completion of this three-year project are outgrowths of what has been learned from the perspectives of the NATs, the project director, and the participating programs. These principles emerged from the accumulated data and observations emanating from the diverse women's studies and gender studies programs. These nine principles are meant to be a provisionary guide to conducting feminist assessment; they summarize our major ideas on this new area of assessment thus far. It is important to note that in defining the following guiding principles, the terms "assessment" and "evaluation" often are used interchangeably. This is because the approaches to evaluation that are most compatible with feminist pedagogy and assessment frequently are those that are non-traditional and involve an emphasis on the process rather than the product. These approaches tend to focus on the improvement of instruction and the development of a positive learning environment on a particular site, rather than stressing cross-site comparisons for accountability purposes. They tend to recognize not only the voice of an evaluator but also the voices of others--such as participants and program directors--who have been a part of the process. * Principle 1: Feminist assessment questions almost everything related to evaluation. As the title of the project--"The Courage to Question"--suggests, feminist assessment questions almost everything that is related to evaluation. Feminist assessment is open to questioning how assessment previously has been carried out, including all paradigms, traditions, approaches, and instruments. It raises questions about methodology, purposes, power, use, politics, and the social context. It may ultimately find that the answers to its questions will ally feminist assessment with other "schools" or paradigms for assessment. However, we begin by assuming that what has been done before probably is inadequate--and often inadequate because it has not posed enough questions to see power relations, to note who is missing from the discussion, to appreciate the importance of context, and to understand the need to cross paradigms or to recognize shifting paradigms for purposes of assessment. * Principle 2: Feminist assessment is student-centered. Feminist assessment, when tied to student learning, is dependent on students for information about what they are learning. This approach is in marked contrast to other methods traditionally used in assessment. For example, the national report America 2000 relies on the creation of national tests in which students must perform to meet someone else's preconceived determination of what is valuable. By contrast, feminist assessment turns to students to reveal what is important to them, what they want to learn, and where their needs are not being met. In feminist assessment, student involvement in evaluating their own learning is a guiding principle. Students may serve as the key source of information, as participants in the research process itself, and--in some cases--as co-assessors with faculty members. Feminist assessment recognizes there is no single student who can possibly stand for the whole. In keeping with its theoretical suspicion of aggregates and universals that too often have obscured women as a group or women in our particularity--such as women of color, women with disabilities, older women, or lesbians--feminist assessment pays attention to the distinctiveness of the individual learner. It also looks for possible and more informative patterns emerging from smaller disaggregate groupings. Since the standpoint from which each of us views the world leads inevitably toward partial perspectives feminist assessment gains its power from holding on as much as possible to the insights of those partial perspectives, forming in the process a more textured and accurate collective whole * Principle 3: Feminist assessment is participatory. Grounded in feminist theory--which seeks to understand oppressive silencing--and in feminist pedagogy--which seeks to give students voice--feminist assessment is deeply committed to an interactive strategy that generates a rich conversation. Less like an external process imposed by detached and distanced experts, feminist assessment resembles more a group of people gathered together to create meaning. As such, it opens up the process rather than narrowing its options and opinions. Those involved in the project (consultants, project personnel, researchers, students) form different configurations throughout the study, and their roles continue to be in flux. In "The Courage to Question," consultants, for example, often changed roles and became learners during joint planning sessions or in their visits to the various sites; students frequently became the assessors of their own learning process. In these ways, traditional hierarchical patterns and power relationships are challenged. Such participatory evaluation emphasizes that those should be part of a continuing dialogue related to the evaluative process. Each participant is encouraged to have a voice in the evaluative process. Participatory evaluation--an offshoot of illuminative evaluation--combines both qualitative and quantitative evaluative methods and is designed specifically with women's studies and non-traditional programs in mind. This participatory approach to assessment has been very much the case in our current study. Inherent in this project has been the underlying assumption that program directors, faculty members, and students on each campus should determine how student learning would best be assessed at their individual sites. Participants also knew at the outset that they would expected to play an active role in the selection of evaluative techniques, collection and analysis of data, and writing the final report. * Principle 4: Feminist assessment is deeply affected by its context or institutional culture. While much traditional research decontextualizes its inquiries and findings, feminist assessment is informed continually by context. It therefore avoids abatractions that are not understood to be firmly root place, or history. For women's studies or gender studies programs, the context or institutional culture is important and cannot be ignored, particularly when the delicate area of assessing student learning is what is being measured. On certain campuses, the women's studies or gender studies program is an integral part of the institution, while on others it may be more marginal. At some sites, feminism may be seen as subversive and dangerous; at another it may be considered a cutting-edge area. It is clear that the kind of assessment that can be carried out on a particular site is affected by the political realities of the institution--and our political realities of the culture at large. In short, the politics of assessment looms large in this area of feminist assessment. Additionally, the contextual reality of an urban, suburban, or rural campus can create a very different program. For example, an urban campus might have a very diverse student population, while a rural campus might be homogeneous in its student composition. Further, geographical locations can lead to the development of unique programs. In the U.S., a southwestern program may emphasize Native American women, while a northeastern program may focus on the study of Latina and African-American women. Hence, a site-specific assessment process becomes important to measure student learning in different contexts or institutional cultures. * Principle 5: Feminist assessment is decentered. Feminist assessment begins to deconstruct the usual "outside-in" or stringent vertical hierarchy to create a more open, varied, and web-like structure. It avoids an "outsider" or more dominant, powerful, and seemingly objective force determining what questions should be asked and how they should be framed. It also avoids an attempt to meet some abstract notion of excellence that has no roots or connections to the group, program, or curriculum being evaluated. Our concept of assessment moves more from the "inside out" rather than from the "outside in." In this project, while a structure was built into the assessment process, the structure provided for different loci of power. A "neutral" outside assessor was not envisioned. Instead, many knowledgeable inside assessors (NATs, project director, program directors, faculty members, students) were utilized who were conversant with the pedagogy, methodology, and scholarship under review and who were active in the design and development of the assessment process. * Principle 6: Feminist assessment approaches should be compatible with feminist activist beliefs. Feminist assessment is driven by its immediate connection to the implications of its research. That is, feminist assessment expects its thinking, its data gathering, and its analysis to have a relationship to actions we will take. Rather than an abstraction floating without any ties to the concrete, feminist assessment is action-oriented and encourages social change to be achieved as an outcome of the process. In our study, diverse sites stressed the feminist activist principles of collaboration and collectivity. This emphasis can be seen in the series of potluck suppers with faculty members, students, and staff members on campuses and in the retreats and collective conversations at other sites where initial ideas were formulated and assessment strategies were planned. Also in keeping with feminist activism, the voices of the many, as opposed to the preaching of the few, are legitimated in feminist assessment. Collaboration and collectivity consider the whole--the whole learner, the whole community, the whole program--as they look to many sources for a more complete picture of what is being assessed or evaluated. In this current investigation, the feminist belief in the concept of creating ways to give voice to those who might otherwise not be heard also was demonstrated by the heavy emphasis on interviews, both individual and group; classroom teacher/student verbal interactions; individual and dialogic journals; and performance assessment of the kind discovered at Lewis and Clark College, in which undergraduate students presented papers at an annual conference as a culminating activity. * Principle 7: Feminist assessment is heavily shaped by the power of feminist pedagogy. Feminist pedagogy is rooted in and informed by relationships. In fact, a core contribution of feminist thought is the recognition of the role of relationships in learning, in human development, and in moral reasoning. Not surprisingly, the concept of relationship is at the heart of the kinds of questions feminist assessment poses and the methods it chooses to use to gather data. Learner outcomes cannot be separated from teacher pedagogy. Therefore, assessment instruments relying on relationships, on dialogue, and on conversation often are the overwhelming instruments of choice. Feminist assessment logically gravitates toward aural/voice assessment techniques, which value listening over looking, connection over separation, and thinking together over counting responses. This might take the form of more loosely structured focus groups, classroom observations, post-observation interviews, telephone inquiries, and open-ended surveys. Therefore, observations of classrooms become central to feminist assessment. So, too, are post-observational interviews and open-ended surveys as they ask those actually involved in the learning process to assess in some detail. Additionally, individual journal writing, group or dialogic journal entries, and portfolios become important not only from a pedagogical perspective but also from an evaluative one. Along with feminist pedagogy, emancipatory pedagogy is frequently employed in women's studies classrooms. Both pedagogical approaches encourage all students to speak their minds in writing assignments and in class discussions. Such openness can be of use in the area of evaluation. It logically follows that students from different backgrounds be asked to reflect more broadly on the learning process itself. This kind of data, generated through student participation, can lead to the development of questions (and some answers) that one can ask about how learning should be assessed. Feminist assessment, then, also should take into account the scholarship that has been written from a feminist pedagogical as well as from an emancipatory pedagogical perspective. It might include the works of such writers as Culley and Portuges, Gabriel and Smithson, Maher and Schniedewind, Sadker and Sadker, Tetreault, and many others. * Principle 8: Feminist assessment is based on a body of feminist scholarship and feminist research methodology that is central to this interdisciplinary area. To be successful, feminist assessment must be compatible with feminist scholarship. It should take into consideration such concepts as maternal thinking, caring, concern and relatedness, and women's ways of knowing or connected learning. These concepts can serve as the theoretical framework for feminist evaluation, a process more concerned with improvement than testing, with nurtured progression than with final judgments. Much of feminist methodology, like feminist scholarship, finds dichotomous thinking inaccurate and therefore seeks to break down the sometimes, if not usually, artificial barriers between what frequently are presented as irreconcilable opposites. For feminist methodology, crossing paradigms and traditions does not seem to be an insurmountable obstacle. Therefore, the forms of assessment we use should be the natural outgrowth of scholarship in the field, and an emphasis on joining theory and praxis should be compatible with that body of theoretical and applied knowledge. * Principle 9: Feminist assessment appreciates values. Feminist assessment begins with and enacts values. It does not presume to be objective in the narrow sense of the word, nor does feminist theory believe there is any such thing as a value-free "scientific" investigation. Even the title of this project, "The Courage to Question," flaunts its ideological preference for and commitment to questioning. Similarly, the kinds of questions posed at the seven campuses reveal their range of values from heightening an awareness of diversity to empowering students to instilling a sense of social responsibility. The project was rooted in values from its very first gathering when each participant was asked to create a list of her most passionate questions about women's studies and student learning. Those questions revealed what each person valued the most. Through extended conversations with other faculty members, students, and staff members on each campus, the three or four most important questions eventually became the focus of investigation. What people measure is--or ought to be--what they value, and the way people measure it also is a choice grounded in values. Women's studies and gender studies students are encouraged to define their own values, to understand the relationship of values to learning, and to analyze how values inform perspectives. In keeping with the dynamics of the feminist classroom where such values are explored, debated, and woven in as one of the educational goals of the women's studies class itself, feminist assessment appreciates values. A BRIEF DISCUSSION OF THE FEMINIST ASSESSMENT PRINCIPLES Clearly there are several schools in the assessment movement that share similar principles with the nine described above. In considering whether feminist assessment was unique, we ultimately decided that what was most unique about it was not its manifestations but its origins. That is, it is distinctive less because of where it ends up than where it begins. For participants in our project, the definition and practice of feminist assessment is inextricably tied to feminist theory, feminist pedagogy, and feminist methodology. Because we sought to shape assessment in a form congruent with our scholarship and teaching, we in women's studies and gender studies eventually developed an assessment that was seamless; that is, it is compatible with our own theoretical framework and everyday practices. In this way, learning, teaching, and assessment are intertwined, and assessment is but a part of the larger whole. While its origins distinguish feminist assessment, as does the particular configuration of the nine principles, many of the principles will be applicable not only to women's studies and gender studies but also to burgeoning interdisciplinary programs as well as to traditional departments. In addition, many of the nine feminist assessment principles are applicable for universities and colleges that are attempting to recenter their curricula toward cultural pluralism as they respond to the increasing demographic diversity in the United States and the increasing consciousness of the global village we all share. In our centeredness on students in all their instructive differences in race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual diversity, age, and disabilities, our participatory assessment process opens up the possibility for new conversations, new insights, and new improvements in student learning. We hope, then, that feminist assessment might be a vehicle for improving student learning in women's studies and gender studies programs, while also expanding the options available in the assessment movement as a whole. 1. Sharon B Merriam, Case Study Research in Education: A Qualitative Approach (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1988), 169. 2. Lamar Alexander and George Bush, America 2000: An Education Strategy (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1991). 3 Joan Poliner Shapiro, "Participatory Evaluation: Towards a Transformation of Assessment for Women's Studies Programs and Projects," Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 10 (Fall 1988): 191-99. 4. Malcolm Parlett and Garry Dearden, Introduction to Illuminative Evaluation: Studies in Higher Education (Cardiff-by-Sea, Calif: Pacific Sounding Press, 1977). See also Joan P. Shapiro and Beth Reed, "Illuminative Evaluation: Meeting the Special Needs of Feminist Projects," Humanity and Society 8 (1984): 432 41, as well as Joan P. Shapiro and Beth Reed, "Considerations of Ethical Issues in the Assessment of Feminist Projects: A Case Study Using Illuminative Evaluation," in Feminist Ethics and Social Science Research, Nebraska Feminist Collective, eds. (New York: Mellon Press, 1988), 100-18. 5. Margo Culley and Catherine Portuges, eds., Gendered Subjects: The Dynamics of Feminist Teaching (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985); Susan L. Gabriel and Isaiah Smithson, eds., Gender in the Classroom: Power and Pedagogy (Urbana, 111.: University of Illinois Press 1990); Frinde Maher and Nancy Schniedewind, eds., "Feminist Pedagogy," Women's Studies Quarterly 15 (1987); Myra P. and David M Sadker, Sex Equity Handbook for Schools (New York: Longman, 1982); Mary Kay Thompson Tetreault, "Integrating Content About Women and Gender Into the Curriculum," in Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives, J. A. Banks and C. A. McGee Banks, eds. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1987), 124 44. 6. Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace (New York: Ballantine Books 1989); Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminist Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1984); Carol Gilligan. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982); Carol Gilligan Janie Victoria Ward, and Jill McLean Taylor, Mapping the Moral Domain: A Contribution of Women's Thinking to Psychological Theory and Education (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1988); Carol Gilligan, Norma P. Lyons, and Trudy J Hammer, Making Connections: The Rational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990); Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill Mattuck Tarule, Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind (New York Basic Books, 1986). 7. In this area of feminist methodology, there are several writers who have contributed to our understanding of the field, among them Gloria Bowles and Renate Duelli-Klein, eds, Theories of Women's Studies (London: Routledge & Kegen Paul, 1983); Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973); Sandra Harding and M. Hintikka, eds., Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1983); Patti Lather, Getting Smart: Feminist Research and Pedagogy With/in the Postmodern (New York: Routledge, 1991); and Liz Stanley and Sue Wise, Breaking Out: Feminist Consciousness and Feminist Research (London: Routledge & Kegen Paul, 1983).