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IPE TIG Week: Journeying from Settler Colonialism Towards Indigenous Liberation Through Culturally Specific Assessment by David Sul

Aloha! Aanii! Boozhoo! ¡Hola!

Greetings from the land where the trees are red, and the condor soars high above them. Here is where the moon rises and sets several times a night and where the land meets the ocean, and the ocean meets the sky. The Coastal Miwok, the original inhabitants of this space, called it Tso Noma but, today, it is referred to as Sonoma County in the U.S. state of California. I am David Sul, Ed.D., with Sul & Associates International and arrived in this region following my familial path from our ancestral homelands of the highlands of Central Mexico. I would like to share some tales of my journeys these past five years engaging with Indigenous practitioners, researchers, and scholars from throughout North America and Hawai’i to design and develop culturally specific assessments.


Culturally specific assessments are culturally responsive assessments that exist within a named worldview and are offered in response to measurement disjuncture.

Western vs Indigenous

Measurement disjuncture penalizes individuals with limited exposure to the dominant culture and limits the ability of individuals to receive credit for what they know outside of the dominant culture. Most insidiously, when confronted with measurement disjuncture, individuals from colonized communities must change the complexion of their being in order to participate in the assessment activity. Frantz Fanon addressed this in his text, Black Skin, White Masks and, in the Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. DuBois referred to this as “double-consciousness.”


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Culturally responsive assessment seeks to provide opportunities for individuals to be present as their best selves and to remain true to their own identities. But because such assessments often are situated within dominant environments, gaps between groups still exist. Culturally specific assessment removes the gap and situates the design and development of assessments within the named worldview.

Lesson Learned

My colleagues and I invited topics such as settler colonialism and slavery, liberation, freedom, self-determination, nationhood, and autonomy into the instrument development process. Now, dear reader, I’ve taken a ton of assessment classes, and not one time did any of these topics appear in a syllabus, course reading, or lecture. And, yet, these complex sociohistorical factors stood front and center within our instrument development conversations. It made me rethink how we study, teach, and practice assessment. Acknowledging and integrating the disjuncture-response dialectic within the assessment development process can support broader Indigenous cultural aspirations.

Hot Tips

  1. If you don’t know it, learn it, and then tell the story of your family and of the land where you reside.
  2. Structural elimination seeks the removal and replacement of Indigenous structures with Western ones. Respond to these forces of elimination by amplifying Indigenous structures.
  3. Unlike the Likert Scale.
  4. Construct assessment constructs that reflect the lives of Indigenous people.
  5. Build assessments that allow Indigenous people to be present as their best selves and remain true to their own identities during the assessment exercise.
  6. Free your mind.

Cool Trick

Avoid the use of the term “trick” when working within Indigenous communities.

Rad Resources

Margaret Kovach’s lecture on Indigenous methodologies, research, scholarship in a time of reconciliation.

Shawn Wilson’s keynote address on the Agency of Indigenous Knowledge at the 2019 meeting of the American Indigenous Research Association

Eve Tuck’s keynote address entitled Eve Tuck Says All the Things at the November 2016 X Anniversary Decolonizing Conference, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

The Moccasin Project: Understanding a Sense of Place through Indigenous Art Making and Storytelling, doctoral dissertation by Co Carew, Lesley University

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Indigenous Peoples in Evaluation (IPE) TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the IPE Topical Interest Group. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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