Validity inquiry 3: How equitable is the summative assessment design?
Equity in assessment design
Summative assessment needs to provide ‘opportunities for all students to demonstrate their abilities and what they know and can do”, so that they can be active participants in creating a “socially just, equitable and democratic global society’ (Queensland Government, 2010, p. 12). Yet sometimes the complexity of the multiple functions of assessment task sheets may also be a barrier to achieving the equitable outcomes that are intended.
Equity in assessment is about reducing barriers that lead to direct or indirect discrimination, and providing supports to ensure that students with disability can take full advantage of the opportunities available to them. The challenge, as Joy Cummings puts it, is “how to reconcile the mandatory aspects of performance with the principles of alternative ways to demonstrate knowledge and understanding“. Or, in other words, given the various competing purposes of assessment, how do we identify and remove barriers that disadvantage one group without disadvantaging another? Accessible design is therefore an important focus for inquiry and feedback.
“I think a lot of it comes back to… knowing your students and knowing what they are capable of and what their needs are and having those relationships with them so that they know that they can achieve what you want them to achieve and that you are doing the best by them.”
Accessible assessment task sheets
Assessment task sheets act as invitations to students to create performances that will be judged or assessed by others. By being aware of the criteria against which they will be judged, teachers hope students will grow their capacity for self-assessment and active participation. In their ideal state, these task sheets allow students to engage in self evaluative judgments as they check their developing work against the specifications.
Even where teachers may attempt to support student agency by demystifying some of the secret teacher business of assessment by giving lots of detailed instructions and information, this may inadvertently create other barriers for students to fully participate in the assessment performance.
In Australia, it is a federally legislated requirement for reasonable adjustment to be made to support all students with disability to access their education on the same basis as students without disability, as described within the Disability Standards for Education (Australian Government, 2005). Despite this requirement however, there is little guidance for teachers as to what accessibility looks like and how it can be achieved.
So, how do we make assessment equitable? One answer is to focus on the first-order expectations of assessment (the core knowledge the task is designed to assess) and to eliminate ~ wherever possible ~ second-order expectations that unduly complicate the task.
Conditions of access
Recommendations for designing accessible assessment need to consider not only accessible design elements, but also the experiences of learners which are central to the definition of fair assessment (Klenowski, 2014; Cumming, Dickson, & Webster, 2013). Assessment task sheets are invitations to students to demonstrate their mastery of new understandings, however these invitations must be evaluated in terms of the affordances they provide for different learners, and whether learners can transform those affordances into action (Gee, 2008). Additionally if assessment tasks are resources that learners can use to take control of their learning and feel confident entering into the assessment performance, then students should also be invited into the design conversation. When students provide feedback on draft versions of the task sheets for projects or assignments, highlighting areas that seem unclear or confusing, teachers are easily able to de-clutter their task designs with positive outcomes for students:
“The quieter girls were more accountable this time around, than they have been in the past. I have seen some of them come up quite well in their grades, and particularly for an unseen exam.”
What did this look like in practice?
School A used a Construct validity checklist to do some self assessment and peer review of their assessment tasks. The teachers said “When using the validity checklist…We sat and went, why is that even on there? So many years of tasks that involved – you’ve got dregs from times before. We’re like, that’s not even that task anymore, quick delete that. That’s just, again, endemic of schools. We just don’t get that collegial time. We work really well in a space; we’re like, right you do this, I’ll do this, and get it done. But I think our whole faculty should be doing it because I think – yeah, it’s just finding the time where it’s not going to be people feeling like they’re being disrespected for the lack of time they have.” They went on to share how they found this practice really helpful and shared it with other departments in the school.
as an example.
The QCAA or other organisations may also provide similar checklists. We would argue that the value of these checklists is in the professional conversation and opportunity for improvement before they are shared with students.
Discuss with a colleague:
What barriers do your students face when they approach assessment?
How can you remove barriers in your assessment design to enable full access to the mandatory focus of the assessment?
How do you help students develop their understanding of quality before they engage in summative tasks?