Promoting equity through fair assessment

Educational practice has long been governed by established traditions and norms, one of which is the assessment system. Around the world, letter grades or numerical scores have become the accepted measure of a student’s understanding, competence, and even potential. However, as educators, we must question whether this model truly serves the diverse needs of our students and effectively assesses their learning. Change is difficult, especially when you feel locked into how a computerized assessment system determines when students are learning. However, remember that the computer does not know your students. A mathematical formula does not accurately represent the learner.

Need for change. Is traditional assessment enough?

Our traditional grading system tends to divide student abilities into simplistic labels, often failing to capture the full picture of student progress. Does “B” really tell us the story of the student’s hard work, their improved understanding, or the conceptual connections they made? It’s time to think about this, rethink our position, and perhaps give our age-old grading system a much-needed makeover.

Asian woman created by AI holding papers and smiling.

Equal assessment. Embracing equity and inclusion

Fair assessment is not about lowering academic expectations. it’s about promoting justice. It’s about recognizing the myriad strengths, abilities, and backgrounds that our students bring to the classroom. This is how we can incorporate fair assessment practices.

  1. Mastery-based assessmentAssessment should not refer to a one-time performance of a test or task. Instead, let’s focus on mastery, assessing how well our students understand a subject over a period of time and providing multiple opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge.
  2. constructive feedbackPrefer detailed feedback over letters or numbers. Descriptive feedback helps students understand where they are excelling and what areas need improvement.
  3. Self-esteemEmpowering students with self-esteem fosters self-awareness by helping them evaluate their own learning journey.
  4. Elimination of biasIt is important to consider potential biases that may affect our assessment. Our goal should be to respect the uniqueness of each student in our assessments.
  5. Diversity is strengthLet’s celebrate the diversity of our classroom by adapting our teaching and assessment methods to accommodate the diverse learners in our room. A one-size-fits-all assessment model is certainly not adequate.

A journey, not a destination

The transition to fair assessment may seem difficult at first, but remember that every significant change is a process. Gradually, step-by-step implementation of equitable assessment practices can make this transition smoother.

12 tips for a fairer assessment

As educators, we know that even the smallest changes in our teaching practices can lead to significant results in our classrooms. And so it is with a fair assessment. Start small!!

1. Mastery-based assessment

Instead of evaluating students based on a one-time test performance, focus on how well students understand the material over a period of time. This is known as mastery-based assessment and better reflects a student’s growth in knowledge. This is not to consider any mark in the mark book as final. If students have learned the topic later, be prepared to update the grade for full credit so that the grade at the time of assessment reflects what the student actually knows. Not what they knew before.

2. Provide constructive feedback

Review the power of feedback. Instead of just giving a numerical grade, provide descriptive feedback that points out what learners did well and where they can improve.

3. Conduct a self-assessment

Allow students to grade their work. This helps students take ownership of their learning and can boost their confidence.

5 Eliminate zeros

A zero can dramatically affect a student’s grade. Consider adopting a grading scale that does not include a zero, as it may provide a more accurate reflection of student understanding.

6. Provide review opportunities

Learning is a process and sometimes it takes a few tries to fully grasp a concept. Allowing students to review their work can promote a growth mindset.

7 Anonymous

Whenever possible, grade assignments without knowing whose work you are grading. This can help eliminate any unconscious bias.

8. Normalize test corrections

Allow students to review and correct their mistakes on tests. This encourages them to learn from their mistakes and shows that you value their learning from their pre-test score.

9. Use technology

Use digital tools to facilitate personalized learning and assessment. Tools such as learning management systems or digital assessment platforms can be of great help.

10. Diversify assessment types

Each student has unique strengths. By varying the types of assessments you use—written papers, oral presentations, multimedia projects, and more—you can give every student a chance to shine.

11. Conduct group assessments

Include group assessments as part of your grading system. This encourages students to work together, interact and can help develop important soft skills.

12. Communicate with students

Finally, keep the lines of communication open. Students should feel comfortable approaching you about their grades. Be open to your concerns, ideas and opinions. Include the student’s own voice in their assessment. I ask students “does this assessment accurately reflect what you know?” If not, I’m open to helping them show it to me in another way. It can only be said orally, and I can appreciate that their knowledge is indeed higher.

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