Lifelong Learning Platform | LLLP - European Civil Society for Education

Assessments, Wellbeing & Inequality: What is the Link?

Wellbeing is an elusive concept that is, for the most part, intangible; outside the realm of daily thought. To say that it is illusory and difficult to grasp, however, is not to deny its prime value. It sets the scene from which a person’s quality of life may derive or proceed. It is not something that occurs in isolated moments; rather, it is a consistent state that allows us to flourish. While it is related to the subjective experience of feeling well – it is equally important to consider the wider social conditions that enable an individual to flourish and reach their full potential. 

In teasing apart the relationship between assessments and wellbeing in our annual theme we thus considered a sub-question: are certain social groups disadvantaged more than others in the context of assessments and how might this compromise their wellbeing?

The answer is a resounding yes! Certain social groups are disadvantaged to a greater extent than others in terms of both exam outcomes and experience – an arrangement that compromises the wellbeing of such groups greatly in their learning. 

While it may come as no surprise that a steep social gradient cuts across exam performance and subsequent outcomes – a rather ominous finding illustrates that certain forms of assessment tend to amplify disparities more than others. High-stake exams are particularly problematic as they offer ample room for advantaged groups to utilise their greater access to private, out-of-school educational activities; a resource that is often out of reach for more disadvantaged students from lower socio-economic and migrant backgrounds.

These additional activities matter – and high-stake exams provide the perfect platform to sustain and promote there use. As such, it is important to keep in mind that certain assessments do not merely record inequality; they are, rather, implicated in its production.

We can also consider how certain forms of assessments operate to sustain gender disparities along the lines of exam anxiety and stress. For instance, a wealth of research suggests that high-stake exams are, on average, more detrimental to the wellbeing of girls who are more likely to report feelings of stress and anxiety than their male counter-parts.

So what’s to be done? A point of departure might be to call into question the role of assessments in producing inequalities and the negative impacts they can have on wellbeing. Alternative, less stress-inducing and more equitable forms of assessment exist. What’s certain is that assessment, wellbeing of learners, and inclusive education systems are no longer to be considered separate areas.

Stay tuned for our position paper on this topic!