Fairness and attainment

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Literature Review

This literature review situates the Study 1 research in the context of fair and equitable qualifications pathways for diverse learners in upper secondary school education, including the role qualifications frameworks can play in these provisions.  Equity of, and equitable access to, qualifications pathways are a central theme of this study.  The first section of this review explores the interlinked concepts of fairness, equity, diversity, and social justice.  Understandings of fair assessment are then investigated, including fair assessment of diverse learners.  The second section provides context through an examination of literature on the purpose and scope of qualifications frameworks, arguments for qualifications frameworks as social constructs, and the role of learning outcomes and pathways within qualifications frameworks.  The section concludes with an examination of qualifications pathways in relation to national equity indicators such as streaming and socio-economic background.  The final section investigates approaches taken by some countries regarding qualifications pathway equivalence and the implications of these for attainment and equity.  System-level policies are identified that can improve the design of upper secondary qualifications pathways and open doorways to further education and training for students.  Literature is explored that identifies the link between qualifications pathways, attainment and equity, and the role that key transition points play in limiting pathways choices for students.  The section concludes with the identification of system-level policies that can lead to more equitable qualifications opportunities and outcomes (doorways) for students.

Fairness and equity

The concept of fairness is a “holy grail” of education generally.  Fairness is defined as being“marked by impartiality and honesty: free from self-interest, prejudice, or favouritism” (Merriam-Webster), and “without unjust advantage” (Oxford).  The terms fairness and equity are often used interchangeably (Gipps & Stobart, 2009; Tierney, 2013), with this overlap evident in the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of equity as “the quality of being fair and impartial” and in Merriam-Webster’s as “freedom from bias or favouritism.” Although the two terms are closely related, they are not synonymous.  Something equitable is proportionately equal or just and distributed according to differentiated need (Tierney, 2016).  Stobart (2005) describes equitable as “a qualitative concern for what is just” (p. 276).  In contrast, fairness is determined by degree and interpreted according to different societal norms and contexts (Tierney, 2016).  In education, fairness is thus a socio-cultural issue (Stobart, 2005) whereby students’ personal circumstances and differences are not obstacles to educational success (Field et al., 2007; Tierney, 2013). Equitable educational resourcing, for example, is proportionately equal and distributed according to differing learning needs, whereas fair education resourcing is determined by the degree of need, as interpreted according to the differing societal norms and contexts of both recipients and givers.  In Watterson’s (1986) cartoon, shown in Figure 2, Calvin’s context for interpreting fairness is different to his father’s.  He regards his personal circumstances (a child) as an unfair obstacle to achieving an equal outcome to that of his parents (a later bedtime), irrespective of how equitable his parents might consider his existing bedtime to be. Equity is distinct from the related term equality, which is interpreted in different ways, all of which are rooted in the concept of fairness.  For example, some define equality as equal uniformity or sameness (Tierney, 2016).  For others, it means having different but equal or equivalent worth (Thompson, 2016; Witcher, 2013), while Stobart (2005) describes it as “essentially a quantitative approach to differences between groups” (p. 276).  Gipps and Stobart (2009) sum up the difference as: “Equity represents the judgment about whether equality, be it in the form of opportunity and/or of outcomes, achieves just (‘fair’) results” (p. 106).

Fairness and diversity

Diversity is “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements” (MerriamWebster).  Fairness relating to diversity involves valuing and engaging with these differences rather than viewing them as problems to be solved (Kandola & Fullerton, 1998) or “an ailment that needs to be cured” (Nieto, 2005, p. 156), and thus has an implicit dimension of inclusion.  Corson (1993) summarises the link between diversity and fairness with the assertion that « Working with minority children is often more than a skill; it is an act of cultural fairness » (p. 179). Understandings of diversity in education have evolved over the past century.  Before the 1960s assimilation models prevailed (Banks, 1976) and diversity, which was mainly viewed through linguistic and racial or ethnic lenses, was typically problematised as something to be eliminated in favour of the dominant (typically Eurocentric) culture’s values, behaviour and language (Banks, 2006).  From the 1960s diversity in education was associated with emerging multiculturalism, which grew out of the protest, emancipation and social change movements of 1960s America (Sleeter, 1991).  Multicultural became the accepted nomenclature to describe diversity at this time, initially concerning educational equity for students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, and subsequently expanding, by the 1980s, to include different social class, gender and disability groupings (Sleeter & Grant, 1987).  Although the ongoing advancement of multiculturalism as an educational reform movement per se is peripheral to this review, it has strong parallels with evolving understandings of the overarching sphere of diversity, including its variety of typologies, disciplines and practices relating to educational equity. In recent decades definitions of diversity have broadened to include other historically marginalised groups.  Current understandings encompass an augmented spectrum of visible and non-visible dimensions including ethnic, socio-cultural, socioeconomic, class, language, gender, age, religion, disability and giftedness (Bell, 2016; Kandola & Fullerton, 1998; Thompson, 2016; Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995).  The diversity spectrum is further enriched by students at intersections between these dimensions (Alton-Lee, 2003; Banks, 2016; Montenegro & Jankowski, 2017).  The resulting diversity milieu is characterised by variety and difference, unified by a common desire for educational equity (Banks, 1993) and fairness. Student populations ranging from micro-level, individual classroom groupings to macro-level, country-wide student populations are intrinsically diverse, and becoming increasingly more so (Alton-Lee, 2003; Cuadra & Moreno, 2005; Field et al., 2007; OECD, 2012b).  Although the semantics of diversity in education have changed over time, the core concept of difference has remained invariable.  For example, over a century ago, Ballard (1915) used the synonym heterogeneity when describing the inconstancy of student diversity: Another factor unfavourable to progress is the non-recognition of the essential heterogeneity of a collection of children, however carefully chosen.  Any seeming homogeneity in a class is both superficial and temporary … If they appear like one another today, they will appear unlike one another tomorrow.  (p. 16) Writing nearly 100 years after Ballard, Alton-Lee (2003) returned to Ballard’s synonym when describing the continually evolving composition of diverse groups of students: “heterogeneity of class groupings is not a fixed characteristic. Rather, differences between students are fluid and changing and have different ramifications for each new teaching situation accordingly” (p. 5). To accommodate diverse students fairly, Wlodkowski and Ginsberg (1995) argue that: Diversity conveys a need to respect similarities and differences among human beings and to go beyond “sensitivity” to active and effective responsiveness.  This requires constructive action to change ideas and attitudes that perpetuate the exclusion of underrepresented groups of students and that dampen their motivation to learn.  (pp. 8–9) Policymakers, educators and examiners thus have a moral imperative to actively and effectively accommodate diverse learners.

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Fairness and social justice

The notion of social justice is concerned with a broad range of social inequalities, oppression and discrimination (Thompson, 2016) and is intrinsically bound in norms of fairness (Witcher, 2013).  Furthermore, Thompson and Thompson (2008) contend that: The term social justice is used rather than simply justice to show that it is more than a matter of individual fairness … rather, it is a matter of understanding how social processes and institutions systematically combine to produce unfair outcomes. Social justice is therefore a socio-political matter. Although Thompson and Thompson’s work is in the social work field, it equally applies to the ethical practice of education, to which fairness is fundamental (Tierney, 2016).  The sociopolitical context of education takes into account larger societal and political forces and their impact on student learning (Nieto, 2005).  These forces include structures that frame and guide society, such as legislation, policies, practices, traditions and ideologies (Nieto & Bode, 2012).  Furthermore, “A sociopolitical context considers issues of power and includes discussions of structural inequality based on stratification due to race, social class, gender, ethnicity, and other differences” (Nieto, 2005, p. 142; emphasis in original), showing that education is not a politically neutral process. Bell (2016) conceptualises social justice more broadly as both a goal and a process: The goal of social justice is full and equitable participation of people from all social identity groups [diversity] in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs [equity].  The process for attaining the goal of social justice should also be democratic and participatory, respectful of human diversity and group differences, and inclusive and affirming of human agency and capacity for working collaboratively with others [fairness] to create change.

1. Introduction and Background
1.1 Background to the Research
1.2 Importance of this research
1.3 Researcher’s background
1.4 Thesis structure
2. Study 1 Literature Review
2.1 Fairness
2.2 Fairness and attainment
2.3 Qualifications Frameworks
2.4 Qualifications Pathways, Attainment and Equity
2.5 Implications for Dead Ends and Doorways
3. Methodology: Overview and Study
3.1 Overarching Research Design
3.2 Methodology
3.3 sampling procedures
3.4 research design
4. Findings
4.1 School Types and Programme Orientation
4.2 Number of school types and education programmes
4.3 Types of schools
4.5 Orientation of programmes offered by different types of schools
Dead Ends and Doorways: Attainment and Equity in Upper Secondary School Qualifications Pathways

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