An important contribution to our understanding of assessment in PE

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Claes Annerstedt
Institutionen för kost- och idrottsvetenskap, Göteborgs universitet


Peter Hay & Dawn Penney Assessment in Physical Education: A sociocultural perspective 150 sidor, hft. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2013 (Routledge Studies in Physical Education and Youth Sport) ISBN 978-1-138-79575-4

Peter Hay & Dawn Penney
Assessment in Physical Education: A sociocultural perspective
150 pages, pb.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2013 (Routledge Studies in Physical Education and Youth Sport)
ISBN 978-1-138-79575-4

During recent years, assessment has been acknowledged as a central element in education, shaping curricula and pedagogy in powerful ways and representing a critical reference point in debates about educational achievement, teaching and learning. Within physical education there is for example an ongoing debate regarding which subject knowledge, skills and understandings should be assessed, in what way, when, and how assessment – and especially grading – should occur. Further, according to López-Pastor et al.,[1] assessment is recognized as ‘one of the most fraught and troublesome issues physical educators have had to deal with’ (p. 57). Having said that, it is beneficial and gratifying that a research-based book about assessment in PE – Assessment in Physical Education. A sociocultural perspective – was published in late 2013. Peter Hay and Dawn Penney, two well-known authors in the field of assessment, presents an elaborated and interesting book that provides readers with insightful critique and theoretically informed ideas for rethinking assessment policies and practices in physical education.

In their book, Hay & Penney define assessment as “any action of information collection within education settings that is initiated for the purpose of making some interpretive judgments about students” (p. 6). They start out by stating that the role of assessment within PE is worthy of ongoing theorizing, research and critical inquiry and in presenting this they adopt a socio-cultural perspective on exploring a range of aspects of assessment practice. This means that the book is not a guide on “how to assess”, but rather an important contribution to our understanding of the socio-cultural issues associated with assessment in PE. The authors’ focus is more broadly on the situation of assessment in the subject and the socio-cultural influences on and consequences of assessment in PE.

The socio-cultural perspective on assessment that Hay & Penney present provides the breadth of focus necessary to comprehend both internal and external factors affecting assessment practices in PE as well as the consequences of those practices for the subject and its key stakeholders. The starting point is that assessment is fundamentally a social activity and as such required by people, developed by people, implemented by people, performed by people and has implications for people right across education systems. Having said that, Hay & Penney – with influences from Bernstein[2] – regard assessment as a message system. Bernstein argued that selection, classification, transmission and assessment of educational knowledge could be viewed as occurring through three inter-related message systems, pedagogy, curriculum and evaluation. Hay & Penney urge the readers to consider the alignment and coherence between these three message systems and to acknowledge that they are always inter-related. It is thus obvious to the reader that not only do we need to critically inquire into the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of assessment in PE, but we must also become aware of the ‘so what’ of our assessment choices, particularly from an equity perspective.

In contrast to more traditional ‘assessment of learning’, Assessment for Learning (AfL) is focused in this book. AfL is viewed as fundamental to enhancing student learning and developing physical educators’ teaching and assessment practice, and as such is deemed to be an important element physical education’s future.[3] Calling for life-long and life-wide learning in physical education, Hay & Penney, recognize AfL:

as a tool that can be utilised to generate discussions and new thinking about learning and learning opportunities in physical education within and beyond schools. It is concerned with quality and equitable learning opportunities and experiences now and in the future, for all students. (p. 110)

Assessment in physical education is divided into three parts. Following the introductory chapter, the first part of the book sets a theoretical foundation for considerations of the place and outcomes of assessment across the education system. This includes the way in which assessment legitimizes and promotes the acquisition, use and demonstration of certain knowledge over other and encourages particular forms of “pedagogical work”[4] in PE.

The second part focuses on the re-contextualization of the assessment message at school level and the reproduction of knowledge that results from practices and pedagogical relations within PE. Analysis then draws on Bourdieu’s concepts of field, habitus and capital to unwrap assessment practices and its consequences. Additionally, the second part offers some theorizing of validity in PE assessment, and, lastly in this section of this book, the authors propose and discuss the idea of assessment literacy.

The third section connects with the issues and challenges that are discussed in section II, and the need for alignment between curriculum, pedagogy and assessment is elaborated and reinforced. Not only is assessment literacy proposed as basic and essential; assessment efficacy is also emphasized as playing an influential role. The concept of assessment efficacy is introduced as a key factor for the promotion of quality, validity and authenticity and is considered particularly in relation to learning “about, through and in movement”[5].

Assessment literacy is a general theme throughout the book and Hay & Penney define assessment literacy as “the development of knowledge and capacities to implement assessment and interpret the outcomes of assessment in a manner that is critically aware and that optimises the value of assessment for all students” (p. 74). The authors propose four inter-dependent elements of assessment literacy:

    • assessment comprehension – focusing on knowledge and understanding of assessment expectations and conditions of efficacy.
    • assessment application – focusing on the conduct of assessment in terms of either teacher implementation or student engagement.
    • assessment interpretation – focusing on making sense of and acting on the information that is collected through assessment practices, including traversing and negotiating the social relations of assessment.
    • critical engagement with assessment – focusing on awareness of the impact or consequences of assessment and challenging the “naturalness” of assessment practices, performances and outcomes. (p. 73)

The need for teachers to be assessment ‘literate’ gained attention in the early 1990s, and ‘assessment literacy’ has undertaken varied developments in education literature since Stiggins[6] defined it as understanding the principles of sound assessment, with teachers meeting standards of high-quality classroom assessment. In their book, Hay & Penney elaborate on the concept of “assessement literacy” in detail, and especially this contribution offers great value for all interested in the field.

The book is of foremost interest to advanced students and researchers in physical education and youth sport studies, as well as those involved in initial teacher education and teacher professional development, but I would propose the book for all interested in the field of assessment. It makes an important contribution to our understanding of the socio-cultural issues associated with assessment in PE and it provides in-depth arguments for the alignment and coherence between assessment, curriculum and pedagogy. In order to obtain quality PE it is essential to be conscious about the role of assessment and this book offers its readers a very useful platform for discussing and elaborating assessment as a pedagogical tool. I strongly recommend the book.

Copyright © Claes Annerstedt 2015


  • [1] Víctor Manuel López-Pastor , David Kirk , Eloisa Lorente-Catalán , Ann MacPhail & Doune Macdonald (2013): Alternative assessment in physical education: a review of international literature, Sport, Education and Society, 18:1, 57-76
  • [2] Basil Berstein Class, Codes and Control. Volume 1: Theoretical Studies Towards a Sociology of Language. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971
  • [3] MacPhail, A. and Halbert, J. (2010) ‘“We had to do intelligent thinking during recent PE”: students’ and teachers’ experiences of assessment for learning in post-primary physical education’. Assessment in education: principles, policy & practice, 17(1), 23-39.
  • [4] Tinning, Richard (2009) Thinking about thinking bodies and moving minds in the context of recent HPE curriculum initiatives in New Zealand. New Zealand Physical Educator, 42 2: 9-13.
  • [5] Arnold PJ (1979) Meaning in Movement, Sport and Physical Education. London: Heinemann.
  • [6] Stiggins, R. J. (1991), Relevant Classroom Assessment Training for Teachers. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 10: 7–12.
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