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                          CHAPTER THREE

                     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

* institutional profile data  
* historical document analysis 
* student evaluation of courses 
* surveys (structured and unstructured) 
* portfolios 
* individual interviews and/or group ones (collective
* 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."[1]
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

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.


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

* 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.[2] 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[3]--an offshoot of illuminative
evaluation[4]--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

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.[5]

* 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.[6] 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.[7]

* 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. 


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).