Educational institutions are considered a keystone for the establishment of a meritocratic society. They supposedly serve two functions: an educational function that promotes learning for all, and a selection function that sorts individuals into different programs, and ultimately social positions, based on individual merit. We study how the function of selection relates to support for assessment practices known to harm vs. benefit lower status students, through the perceived justice principles underlying these practices. We study two assessment practices: normative assessment—focused on ranking and social comparison, known to hinder the success of lower status students—and formative assessment—focused on learning and improvement, known to benefit lower status students. Normative assessment is usually perceived as relying on an equity principle, with rewards being allocated based on merit and should thus appear as positively associated with the function of selection. Formative assessment is usually perceived as relying on corrective justice that aims to ensure equality of outcomes by considering students’ needs, which makes it less suitable for the function of selection. A questionnaire measuring these constructs was administered to university students. Results showed that believing that education is intended to select the best students positively predicts support for normative assessment, through increased perception of its reliance on equity, and negatively predicts support for formative assessment, through reduced perception of its ability to establish corrective justice. This study suggests that the belief in the function of selection as inherent to educational institutions can contribute to the reproduction of social inequalities by preventing change from assessment practices known to disadvantage lower-status student, namely normative assessment, to more favorable practices, namely formative assessment, and by promoting matching beliefs in justice principles.
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