CREATE Week: Assessment Equity: The Needed Shift from Standardization by Sheila Wilson

Hi evaluators, I’m Sheila Wilson, educator, school leader, adjunct professor and passionate enthusiast for amplifying learning. This is my first contribution to the AEA blog, and I am eager to speak to the need for equity with regard to the assessment of students.

Sheila Wilson
Sheila Wilson

The call for performance assessments did not come from concerns of equal access, rather the era of high stakes testing ushered in the demand for evidence that students could perform at a high level. However, our nation’s universities continue to serve an increasingly diverse population. As educators, we are bound (it is my belief) by a commitment to ensure that educational opportunities are equitable for all students.

This means moving beyond the ongoing talk of achievement gaps and the oftentimes-disingenuous conversation on the importance of equity in education. In other words, we must “walk the talk”. To provide clarity, this includes but is not limited to English Language learners, students of color, students with learning differences, and those who live beyond the poverty threshold. I believe by making assessment equity a priority; we can better ensure academic success for all groups and greater reliability in reporting student mastery.

Equitable assessment design characteristics:

1.   Assessment alignment. Assessments should be clearly aligned with learning outcomes. When this alignment is in place, students are able to successfully demonstrate their mastery of content.

2.   Assessments are culturally responsive. Consideration is given to the population being served. This includes using language that is appropriate for all students. When we know our students we can tailor assessments to gain a more accurate indicator of what they have learned.

3.   Assessments provide multiple ways to demonstrate mastery. Instead of looking a one snapshot (assessment), the ongoing work of students provides a clearer picture of what they’ve learned. Also, students have flexibility in the method they use to show that they have learned the content.

assessment cartoon

Questions to consider

Should assessments be inclusive of our current student populations?

How can we ensure that assessments don’t benefit certain populations and exclude others?

Does overlooking issues of diversity and equity in assessments contribute to distorted outcomes?

Hot Tip:

If we truly want to dismantle the achievement gap and ensure equitable access for every student we must be more strategic in the area of assessment.  The aforementioned design characteristics are critical to assessment equity. We must do a better job using our assessments to support equity, as contrasted with standardization, as in previous years. In this way, we will better ensure the authenticity of data to inform improved outcomes and next steps in planning, instruction, and assessment.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Consortium for Research on Educational Assessment and Teaching (CREATE) week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from members of CREATE. 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.

3 thoughts on “CREATE Week: Assessment Equity: The Needed Shift from Standardization by Sheila Wilson”

  1. Hi Sheila,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article about assessment equity and how standardized tests are not serving the needs of our diverse learners in the education system today. I’m a high school teacher in Canada, one who often teaches Special Education and works with youth operating below their corresponding grade’s literacy level, and I can relate from my own personal experiences in how standardized testing is not in the best interests of our learners. The comic you included made me laugh out loud because of how well it hit the nail on the head in how unfair and inequitable it is to expect our youth to all be judged by the same standard task, and not take into account their individual strengths, best ways they learn, and their areas of struggle. I strongly agree with you in that it’s due time now to start taking action and walking the walk- it’s wonderful that there is lots of discussion and research on achievement gaps and literacy gaps, but once we know we need to do better, it’s time to start doing better.

    I appreciate that you provided 3 key equitable assessment design characteristics to help educators guide their assessment by. Point #3- assessment providing multiple ways to demonstrate mastery, as well as giving students flexibility to show how they’ve learned the content is absolutely critical. Not only does providing students multiple ways to demonstrate their learning make it more accessible for all learners, it also further engages students through providing them choice in how they would like to illustrate their learning. I find that through providing multiple ways to show their learning, students often feel less pressured and can organically learn and produce work without feeling the performance anxiety that often crops up in one big, intimidating standardized test, where there is a lot of pressure to make this one assessment count. The future is bright when educators provide all learners with diverse learning opportunities and flexible ways to illustrate their learning and mastery of skills, so that all students can move forward from their public education with the skills and confidence needed to succeed in whatever they set their mind to. Thank you for the helpful reflection questions and very thoughtful post!

  2. Hi Sheila,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article about assessment equity and how standardized tests are not serving the needs of our diverse learners in the education system today. I’m a high school teacher in Canada, one who often teaches Special Education and works with youth operating below their corresponding grade’s literacy level, and I can relate from my own personal experiences in how standardized testing is not in the best interests of our learners. The comic you included made me laugh out loud because of how well it hit the nail on the head in how unfair and inequitable it is to expect our youth to all be judged by the same standard task, and not take into account their individual strengths, best ways they learn, and their areas of struggle. I strongly agree with you in that it’s due time now to start taking action and walking the walk- it’s wonderful that there is lots of discussion and research on achievement gaps and literacy gaps, but once we know we need to do better, it’s time to start doing better. The future is bright when educators provide all learners with diverse learning opportunities and flexible ways to illustrate their learning and mastery of skills, so that all students can move forward from their public education with the skills and confidence needed to succeed in whatever they set their mind to. Thank you for the helpful reflection questions and very thoughtful post!

  3. Absolutely! And it causes “evidence” in policy/practice to be shotty or worse, harmful. ? WE NEED TO ASK THESE “ABSENCE OF” QUESTIONS NOW. Great blog and a reminder about different inquiry and communication pathways to get to equity and justice in evaluation (vs perpetuating and contributing to poor outcomes and harm). If what worked was working the longitudinal stats would be changing. Have they? Go look. Seriously. Then ask yourself going forward which pathway will you contribute to/uphold in your professional practice?

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