In a perfect world, we would individualize assessment for every student, thus truly accounting for all differences in their prior knowledge, cultural differences, and cognitive styles. As we all know, this is near impossible and certainly impractical. But, as Linda Suskie shares in her article in the AAHE Bulletin from back in 2000 – Fair Assessment Practices – there are steps that can be taken to at least ensure that assessment methods are as fair as they can be. Her steps to fair assessment are to:
- Have clearly stated learning outcomes and share them with your students, so they know what you expect from them. By clearly defining the goals and what will be covered and how they will be graded, students will have a better understanding of expectations.
- Match your assessment to what you teach and vice versa. As Suskie points out, “If you expect your students to demonstrate good writing skills, don’t assume that they’ve entered your course or program with those skills already developed. Explain how you define good writing, and help students develop their skills.”
- Use many different measures and many different kinds of measures. When people think of assessments in education, they often do so without thinking holistically. They think of an end-of-year summative assessment (a final exam or a state test). Or, perhaps they think of interim assessment given at different intervals through the year to measure growth. Teachers might focus on formative assessment tools and practices that help them understand in the moment how well their students are grasping the information. But, in reality, all assessments in education play an important role in illuminating student understanding and performance. Formative assessment guides learning. Summative assessment certifies learning. Interim assessment guides and tracks learning. Benchmark assessments help predict outcomes. Diagnostic assessments help surface areas where students need help. There are multiple measures that can and should be used to make informed instructional decisions and a genuine need for a smart balance of data gathering.
- Help students learn how to do the assessment task. Students learn differently based on a number of different factors, but as Suskie points out, “The lesson is clear: No matter what kind of assessment you are planning, at least some of your students will need your help in learning the skills needed to succeed.”
- Engage and encourage your students. Suskie shares research that clearly shows that student performance benefits from positive encouragement and reinforcement.
- Interpret assessment results appropriately. While assigning grades based on performance against peers may be appropriate under certain circumstances, often, it’s best to assess student performance against standards. “Did the student present compelling evidence? Summarize accurately? Make justifiable inferences?” Another interpretation that can be appropriate is assessing against the student’s growth. At the end of the course, did the student gain the knowledge required of the curriculum?
- Evaluate the outcomes of your assessments. As Suskie states, “If your students don’t do well on a particular assessment, ask them why. Sometimes your question or prompt isn’t clear; sometimes you may find that you simply didn’t teach a concept well.”
Creating a fair assessment system is as important as creating a balanced assessment system. In our next blog, we’ll share some ideas, from Suskie and others, on how to spread the word on the importance of a fair assessment system.