Date of Award

Winter 2011

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Michael Middleton


This dissertation examines the cultural practice of assessment at King Middle School, a grades 6--8 school in Portland, Maine. I trace this school's reform efforts over 23 years, within the current development of school-wide practices over time, in relation to making work public.

I used a sociocultural framework, which allowed for an examination of the situation-as-a-whole, to see learning as distributed among people, time and objects, and to view artifacts of student work as boundary objects ---sites of negotiation among people from different, but related, social worlds. A sociocultural perspective also allowed for an expansive notion of assessment that included not just individual classroom strategies or school-wide practices, but also the system of assessment across communities.

I adopted a grounded theory approach to data collection and analysis. My research yielded a mid-level theory about how sharing work with audiences---and the resulting recognition---shapes students, teachers, institutions and communities. Accordingly, this theory also describes a dialectic process---how institutions, communities, teachers and students shape the cultural practice of assessment. In line with a sociocultural perspective, I also found that recognition was not simply something produced through student work, but was an inherent feature of the activity.

In conclusion, I share implications on three levels: conceptual, methodological and practical. Conceptually, I offer a developmental understanding of recognition in which recognition can be seen as a rich site of acknowledgement for contributions to, and membership in, communities. My practical findings include recommendations for policy, schools and classrooms such as: (1) Allowing multiple types of evidence to 'count' as measures of academic achievement; (2) intentionally perforating the traditional boundaries of school; (3) creating opportunities for students to engage in reciprocal caring; and (4) seeing assessment as integral to, rather than separate from, learning.