Are Your Assessments Fair for All Learners?

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Are Your Assessments Fair for All Learners?


It is not possible to be entirely equitable, non-biased, and objective in assessing and reporting learning; or for that matter, in life.  It is normal to cultivate personal preferences and have preconceived perspectives. As I was drawn to lists of cognitive biases at Raconteur, and Cognitive Bias Codex, I recognized that we are all prone to selective perception, bandwagon effect, projection, and anecdotal fallacy. In a world where there is more information than our brains can process, relying on cognitive shortcuts can lead to mistaken beliefs and errors of judgment, leading to inequity and bias in assessment.

Until it becomes possible to measure a brain’s dendrite growth and neuronal connectivity throughout learning, assessment in the classroom is at best a measure of the assessment’s validity and the learner’s selective recall and comprehension. Assessment can be prone to unfairness in content, language, format, and scoring. Interpretation of results may be influenced by students’ personal traits, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status.

*Confirmation Bias: Giving more credence to data that supports our current beliefs.
*Optimism Bias: Overlooking students’ weaknesses while emphasizing agreeable outcomes.
*Pessimism Bias: Over-emphasis and over-confidence in negative outcomes and events.
*Reliance on Partial Information: Rarely do we have everything needed to understand the entire narrative, explanation, or process, so our brains
tend to use prior learning and experiences to fill in gaps.
*Illusion of Knowledge: Considering people and things we know, do, and understand, as more important and dependable than those that are less
familiar and personally relevant
*Status Quo Bias: Preference to do things the way we’ve always done it.

Information and emotional overload put our brains into survival mode where we must quickly decide what is most essential and respond to what is most distressing.
It is at these times that preconceived biases inform our decisions about, and analysis of, many things, including assessment.

It is possible to be balanced, inclusive and fair in assessment. Here are some ideas:

Pre-assess students’ incoming knowledge and skills in support of teaching and learning.
Provide clear, specific, and achievable learning objectives that all learners can undertake.
Give students ownership of their grades through well-defined grading criteria and rubrics.
→Ensure transparency in how and what will be assessed, along with the scoring and weighting.
Incorporate multiple levels of taxonomies: i.e. knowing, applying, predicting, and producing.
→Minimize consequences of prerequisite skills such as ELA vocabulary for math word problems and writing skills for social studies.
Make available varied yet sequential pathways for students to achieve and succeed. For example, students can write a traditional essay, use new  vocabulary in a call to action, or illustrate it.
→Offer opportunities for students to annotate their responses. Pierre says, “I wasn’t sure whether to choose 8 or 9 planets because even the scientists disagree.”

Restorative Assessment: Strength-Based Practices that Support All Learners
Sticky Assessment: Classroom Strategies to Amplify Student Learn

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