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Centre for Assessment Research, Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE)

Prof. John Gardner delivering the annual CARPE Lecture

Annual CARPE Lecture: The Quantum of her Wantum cannot vary... or can it?

On Monday, 23rd October, 2017, CARPE welcomed John Gardner – Senior Deputy Principal at the University of Stirling and recently appointed Adjunct Professor at the School of Policy and Practice – to deliver our second annual public lecture. Prof. Gardner is known for his imaginative paper titles, and this was certainly no exception. Indeed, “The Quantum of her Wantum cannot vary – or can it?” was immediately dubbed ‘lecture title of the year’ on Twitter, by what we have been assured is a highly reputable awarding body…

Prof. Gardner’s talk was focused on imprecision in educational assessment. He spoke about the “psychometrician’s fallacy”, arguing that the concept of measurement has been inappropriately applied to complex psychological attributes over time, with crisp and definitive numbers and grades creating a false sense of certainty and objectivity. Distinguishing between the layman’s concept of error as a mistake or mishap, and the scientific concept of measurement error arising from sources such as variation in assessors’ judgements, Prof. Gardner urged those working in the field of assessment to be more transparent with the public about the nature and extent of this error. “Not doing so because they may struggle to understand it”, he argued, “is deeply patronizing.”

Following Prof. Gardner’s talk, Dr. Anne Looney, Executive Dean of the Institue of Education, reflected on his message in light of the ongoing assessment reform taking place in the Irish education system. She noted that assessment literacy is growing, and that recent changes at Junior Cycle appear to be demystifying the concept of assessment for students, as they become more involved in the process. This developed into a spirited debate as members of the audience both commended and challenged Prof. Gardner’s assertions.

The team at CARPE wish to extend their thanks to Prof. Gardner for addressing this important topic in such an engaging manner, to Paul Murphy for capturing the photographs and video on the day, and to all those who attended and contributed to the event.


25th October, 2017