Equity in Assessment

Conversations around equitable assessment have rapidly expanded in recent years. Concepts and ideas for furthering equity in assessment are summarized below; many themes repeat across these three resources. A video resource and additional web resources follow this section.

Jankowski and Montenegro introduced the concept of equity-minded assessment in the January 2020 Occasional Paper from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). They lay out the following actions for engaging in equity-minded assessment (emphases added):

  • Check biases and ask reflective questions throughout the assessment process to address assumptions and positions of privilege.
  • Use multiple sources of evidence appropriate for the students being assessed and assessment effort.
  • Include student perspectives and take action based on perspectives.
  • Increase transparency in assessment results and actions taken.
  • Ensure collected data can be meaningfully disaggregated and interrogated.
  • Make evidence-based changes that address issues of equity that are context-specific.”

Chapter 2 of Advancing Assessment for Student Success (2021) focuses on equity in assessment, particularly at the course level. The author provides several strategies for embedding equity into teaching and assessment practices:

  • Know your students. At the beginning of a course, ask students what would help them be successful, support their learning, and engage them in the course. Check in throughout the semester to ask whether students have experienced these strategies in practice. Point out particular pedagogical strategies when they are used in class so students learn to identify them.
  • Build a caring community. Demonstrate care for your students, connect them to resources on campus, and collaborate with student affairs staff in providing holistic support for the whole student experience. Find ways to build community among students in your course, such as partnering students at the beginning of the semester and asking them to check in on each other if they miss class.
  • Gather student input on learning outcomes. Ensure students understand the language used and ask them to make connections between the course learning outcomes and the course content/activities, as well as point out any gaps.
  • Provide students with agency. Ask your students to propose an assignment that would best enable them to demonstrate their learning, or provide a set of options for completing a particular assignment (e.g., traditional essay, oral presentation, podcast, poem, graphic novel, etc.). Use a rubric to evaluate assignments and provide clear instructions for how students should meet the assignment criteria. Consider co-designing the rubric with your students.
  • Disaggregate assessment results by student demographics. This should be a regular practice used to bring inequities to light.
  • Follow up on changes. After using assessment findings to make changes to pedagogy, curricula, or other processes, assess again to determine whether the changes were effective and led to improvements in student learning and/or closed equity gaps.
  • Pay attention to power dynamics. Find ways in which you are comfortable relinquishing some of your power (in designing the structure and format of assignments, in setting assignment deadlines, in assigning students to groups, etc.) to create a more collaborative learning environment with your students. Consider also how privilege or lack thereof functions in your classroom, and work to support students with fewer privileges within the context of higher education.

Baker, Henning, Jankowski, Lundquist, and Montenegro’s book, Reframing Assessment to Center Equity (2022), focuses entirely on theories, models, and practices for embedding equity into assessment work, both in academic and co-curricular assessment. Later chapters of this book give concrete examples for embedding equity into assessment, while earlier chapters address the need for equity-minded assessment and detail its history, describe how to approach assessment from an activist lens, and provide models and approaches to increasing equity. The fourth chapter in particular provides an overview of current frameworks for equity-minded assessment, many of which overlap with or build on each other:

  • Antiracist assessment. Antiracist teaching informs an antiracist approach to assessment, which involves interrogating power relations, dismantling structural racism, and lifting up co-construction of syllabi, assignments, and assessment with students.
  • Bias-free assessment. Focused on bias in testing, this approach to assessment endeavors to remove cultural and contextual biases from the assessment process.
  • Critical assessment. This practices centers critical theory to question and critique systems, consider history and context, and make assumptions and intentions explicit; similar to antiracist assessment, a critical approach to assessment also considers the role of power and privilege in the design of assessment methods.
  • Culturally responsive assessment. With its roots in culturally responsive evaluation, this approach accounts for students’ multiple cultures and uses varied methods of assessment to acknowledge the different ways students demonstrate their learning.
  • Decolonized and Indigenous assessment. This practice de-emphasizes Western cultural approaches to assessment and ways of knowing that have dominated higher education. It includes Indigenous approaches to knowledge creation, teaching, and assessing, which value interconnectivity, reciprocity, and sense of place.
  • Deconstructed assessment. Deconstructed assessment emphasizes assessment as inquiry, an activist approach to assessment, increased use of qualitative assessment methods, student involvement in the assessment process, and cultural responsiveness.
  • Socially just assessment. This approach views assessment as both a process and a product; it should be implemented in a way that does not perpetuate harm, but can also promote social justice and equity by dismantling systems of power and oppression in higher education.

The office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment has copies of Reframing Assessment to Center Equity and Advancing Assessment for Student Success; contact Kelsey Thompson (thomps22@stolaf.edu) if you are interested in borrowing either book.

Equity-Minded Assessment Video

Kelsey Thompson, Assistant Director of Assessment, in collaboration with Steve McKelvey, then Faculty Director of Assessment, and two assessment colleagues (Vanessa Preast at Grinnell College and Nancy Bostrom at Macalester College), developed a presentation on equity-minded assessment during the 2021-22 academic year. The presentation provides an overview of equity-minded assessment and gives some examples for putting these principles into practice. View the 23-minute video on YouTube here.

Additional resources: