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Assessment as Critical Inquiry

Students and educators are familiar with assessments that measure individual student learning in the classroom through quizzes, exams, projects, and other assignments which allow students to demonstrate their learning and which allow instructors to provide feedback to students.

Students and educators alike may be less familiar with course and program-level assessments that shift the focus from students to the institution to ask how effective a course, program, or curriculum is in supporting student learning. This type of assessment is critical for maintaining curricula that are adaptable, up to date, and rigorous.

Course and program level assessments are a form of inquiry, and they are complete only when they engage critically in questions of equity. This means asking how effective the program is not on average, but specifically for students of distinct racial, economic, social, and educational backgrounds. It also means explicitly acknowledging the social and historical contexts that have systematically excluded students from accessing higher education and marginalized their participation, based on race.

Equity in Action

In practice, equity-minded assessment requires a coherent plan for undertaking self-study, access to student coursework and evidence of learning, willingness to engage student perspectives, and access to institutional data on student outcomes and demographics. The National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) identifies six actions for enacting equity-minded assessment:

  • Check biases and ask reflective questions throughout the assessment process to address assumptions and positions of privilege.
  • Use multiple sources of evidence appropriate for the students being assessed and assessment effort.
  • Include student perspectives and take action based on perspectives.
  • Increase transparency in assessment results and actions taken.
  • Ensure collected data can be meaningfully disaggregated and interrogated.
  • Make evidence-based changes that address issues of equity that are context-specific.
Montenegro & Jankowski (2020) Embedding Equity into Assessment Praxis.
Recognizing that many educators are deeply committed to equity but may have only limited experience in advancing equity at an institutional level, Bensimon and colleagues (2016) identify key aspects of equity-minded practice
  • Color-conscious (as opposed to color-blind) in a critical sense.
  • Aware that beliefs, expectations, and practices assumed to be neutral can have outcomes that are racially disadvantageous. 
  • Willing to assume responsibility for the elimination of inequality.
  • Aware that while racism is not always overt, racialized patterns nevertheless permeate policies and practices in higher education institutions.
Bensimon, Dowd, & Witham (2016) Enacting Equity by Design.
The Education Research + Assessment Hub is here to partner with faculty and their programs as they develop their plans. Contact us to schedule a consultation, a data review, or training. .