National Standardized Assessments in South Africa: Policy and Power Play

Thokozani Chilenga-Butao, Noma Pakade, Melanie Ehren

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This chapter presents a structured timeline of changes in curriculum and assessment policy in South Africa, demonstrating how these reforms have been short-lived and often abandoned before any sustainable improvement could materialize. Our analysis of key policy documents (1994–2019), analysis of curriculum and assessment reviews and informal email exchange with administrators in the Department for Basic Education indicates how a resistance to teacher accountability and change, political expediency for quick improvements, and the lack of collaborative capacity in the system, led to a trajectory of constant reform and overhaul of policy. Our reconstruction shows how the continuous contestation over curriculum and assessment policy offers little ground to negotiate differences and remedy potential technical faults in assessments, or to jointly develop the support for teachers and schools to use assessment outcomes for the benefit of teaching and learning. Only when these conditions are met can national assessments effectively inform the work of teachers and school principals and inform system-wide improvement, particularly where there is high inequality and large performance gaps between schools across the country, such as in South Africa.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWorld Yearbook of Education 2021
Subtitle of host publicationAccountability and Datafication in the Governance of Education
EditorsSotiria Grek, Christian Maroy, Antoni Verger
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781003014164
ISBN (Print)9780367856502
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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