oa Journal of Education - Validating academic assessment: a hermeneutical perspective

Volume 33, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0259-479X



This article addresses the nature of validation in assessment, that is, the question of what we know, and the processes by which we come to know, in assessing student work. Interest in this question started with a panel discussion at the Kenton Education Conference between the three authors of this article. This article is a continuation of that discussion. It begins by drawing on the basic distinction between the hermeneutics of faith and the hermeneutics of suspicion, first set out by Paul Ricoeur. These are two ontological moments in social science theory, in every day life, in teaching and in assessment. They cannot be separated. Nevertheless, and quite problematically, much of the assessment literature, and much assessment activity, ignores the first and emphasizes the second. In addition, there is significant assessment activity in teaching which incorporates implicitly and silently, non-cognitive and situational factors, based on the hermeneutics of faith. Our question is: How is one, then, to validate judgements made in this post-positivist mode? How is one to assess the assessor? We conclude the paper with tentative suggestions of how criteria drawn from qualitative research and from psychotherapy can be helpful in this regard.

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