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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Andrew Davis

Davis, A. (2009). Examples as Method? My Attempts to Understand Assessment and Fairness (in the Spirit of the Later Wittgenstein. Journal of Philosophy of Education 43(3): 371-389.

Author(s) from Durham


What is 'fairness' in the context of educational assessment? I apply this question to a number of contemporary educational assessment practices and policies. My approach to philosophy of education owes much to Wittgenstein. A commentary set apart from the main body of the paper focuses on my style of philosophising. Wittgenstein teaches us to examine in depth the fine-grained complexities of social phenomena and to refrain from imposing abstract theory on a recalcitrant reality. I write philosophy of education for policy makers and teachers. Scrutiny of examples plays a vital role in communicating with such an audience. Starting points include 'accommodations' for disabled students, allegedly gender-biased tests, and the recruitment procedures of 'elitist' music conservatoires. A key intuition that fairness is associated with test validity turns out to be seriously flawed. Problems centre on the idea of a 'construct', and the supposed divide between an underlying construct and its behavioural manifestations. Equality of opportunity notions underlie some accusations of unfairness but there are alternative approaches to a just society. Both the judgments about fairness, and the proposed remedies are open to serious philosophical criticisms. There are widespread conceptual difficulties, together with inconsistent and contestable value judgments.


Special Issue: What do Philosophers of Education do? (And how do they do it?): Edited by Claudia Ruitenberg