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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: June 2012

3 - A Sociological Perspective on Opportunity to Learn and Assessment



This chapter reviews the major conceptions of opportunities to learn and assessment within the discipline of sociology. The traditional view of schooling as a meritocratic sorting device is contrasted with (1) the view of schooling that asserts schools (either wittingly or unwittingly) serve to reproduce the existing hierarchies of privilege; (2) the point of view that proposes that schools, peers, and families mediate the relations between structural constraints and human action; and (3) a resurgent democratic conception of schooling.

In contrast to the meritocratic conception of opportunity to learn (OTL) and assessment that asserts schools provide students with avenues to compete as individuals for valued resources, I present evidence that questions whether students have equal access to valued educational and cultural resources. This leads to defining OTL in terms of establishing the conditions within schools for the open flow of ideas and solving problems that are connected to the “real world.” Multiple measures of students' academic performance – especially those such as portfolios and exhibitions – that assess learning in authentic contexts (see Gee, this volume, and Mislevy, this volume) are preferred over standardized tests as assessment tools.

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