A Push for Equitable Assessment
by Madeline St. Amour, Inside Higher Ed / Jun 26, 2020
COVID-19 and nationwide antiracism protests have intensified conversations about inequity in higher education. One research group hopes to use this moment to promote more inclusive ways to validate learning.
A few years ago, the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) noticed that some discussions in higher education were shifting.
The sector was starting to focus more on equity when talking about recruitment of students and teaching practices as the needs of students began to change, said Erick Montenegro, communications coordinator and research analyst for the institute and a doctoral candidate in Higher Education Administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
But, in the assessment world, not much was moving.
As a Latinx, first-generation learner, Montenegro couldn't see himself reflected in the data collected in assessments. To get the conversation going, the institute in 2017 released its first report on equitable assessment, a model that sees assessments as ways to determine how well students are learning and to identify what teaching practices may need adjustment. For example, rather than promoting difficult testing where most students fail, colleges should instead assess students in myriad ways to see if they have reached specific learning goals.
By 2018, institutions were starting to realize they needed to shift, Montenegro said, but they needed examples of what equitable assessment could look like. To address this, the institute is releasing a series of case studies on the strategies colleges are using to make their assessments more equitable.
"When you validate someone’s learning, you validate them as a person," said Natasha Jankowski, executive director of the institute and a research associate professor at Illinois. "And if we’re not being very mindful of that, we’re not doing the right thing."
The institute has already released three case studies (from Cornell University, Portland State University and Capella University), and expects to release a total of seven. The goal was to highlight varied examples so that colleges didn't approach the work as simply checking off a box, Jankowski said. The institute also wanted to ensure that colleges could no longer cite a lack of examples as an excuse to ignore the issue.
"We can do equitable assessment everywhere -- we just have chosen not to," Jankowski said. "But we can’t afford to not focus on this anymore."
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