Inclusive Pedagogy Toolkit: Assessment

 

Assessment

Assessment is a crucial part of any course; you need to know whether your students are learning what you set out for them to learn. Learning happens differently for each student; a traditional or narrow set of assessment practice may not capture demonstrations of learning. Inclusive assessment includes considerations of purpose and intent of the practice; clear criteria; motivation and retention; and formative, low-stakes opportunities that allow students to monitor their own progress. Inclusive assessment is about accuracy—being thoughtful about student differences so that you can really see what they’re learning.


Be explicit about your assessment criteria and how they relate to learning goals, and share successful examples

Why does this matter?

Being explicit about your goals and assessment criteria forces you to become clear on those things yourself, discourages bias and promotes equal treatment, reduces student anxiety, and it also allows students to track their own progress (Balloo et al., 2017, Bloxham and West, 2004). Furthermore, evidence suggests that more transparent assignments boost students’ “academic confidence, sense of belonging, and mastery of the skills that employers value most when hiring,” particularly when those students are from underrepresented populations (Winkelmes et al, 2016). On the other hand, keeping assessment opaque prevents students from making helpful connections between ideas (Ambrose et al, 2010), and is especially likely to favor students who have had more experience with higher education, either through family relationships, high school experiences, and other pre-college opportunities to familiarize themselves with academia (Winkelmes et al, 2016).

How might I do this?

  • Invite opportunities for students to ask questions and clarify learning goals and expectations.
  • If you have criteria for grades (e.g., on papers, presentations, etc.), share those criteria with students, whether in the form of an element-by-element rubric or a verbal description BEFORE the assignment is due.
  • Give students feedback early and often, with at least one assessment returned with feedback before the midterm.
  • Share models of successful student work—hypothetical examples created by you or actual work solicited from students.
  • Dedicate class time for students to practice the requirements of significant assignments.

Think beyond tests and papers; give students multiple ways and repeated opportunities to reflect upon and demonstrate their learning and growth

Why does this matter?

New forms of expression invite new kinds of learning (Pedelty, 2001). At the same time, “students learn in dynamic, multifaceted, and diverse ways” (Kelly and Sihite, 2018), and will need to express that learning in equally diverse ways. And it has been found that students respond positively to the opportunity to express their knowledge in diverse ways, including an experience of lowered stress and increased success (Kumar and Wideman, 2014). Some scholars and teachers in fact argue for moving away from grades altogether, as grades can interfere with student motivation and learning (Amabile, 2018; Hennessey, 2018; Blum and Kohn, 2020; Inoue, 2019).

How might I do this?

  • Distribute points across a range of assignments, lowering the stakes of any given assignment.
  • Allow students to share their work (drafts) at a number of points in the process of completing an assignment.
  • Use different kinds of assessments at different times throughout the semester (e.g., in writing, orally, through a performance, alone, in groups, etc.).
  • In a given assessment moment, you can allow each student to choose how to show their learning (e.g., students can choose writing, oral presentation, a performance, alone, in groups, etc.).
  • Work with your students to co-create assignments and criteria for evaluation.
  • At the end of a project or at the end of the semester, solicit students’ self-assessments and allow those self-assessments to influence, or even decide, their grades.
  • If appropriate for your course, consider implementing assessment frameworks that are contract or labor-based. Sometimes referred to as “ungrading,” these approaches focus on student learning and progress, rather than on outcomes alone.

Create opportunities for students to make their learning visible to the full learning community to help build solidarity as opposed to competition around assessment

Why does this matter?

One of Georgetown’s core values is “People for Others”; if we’re going to affirm that value, we need to extend it into the classroom. Competition has been shown to decrease academic creativity and intrinsic motivation to learn (cf. Hennessey, 2018), whereas a felt sense of connectedness between students predicts more student participation, greater investment in the course, and even increased learning (MacLeod et al., 2019)—and sharing work between students increases a sense of belonging in the class (Waycott et al., 2013). Further, being involved in assessing one another’s work (e.g., through peer review) can leave students feeling more knowledgeable and confident about the assessment process and can give them ideas for how to take on the assignment themselves (Bloxham and West, 2004).

How might I do this?

  • Make use of peer feedback sessions and workshopping, both early in the semester and later when projects/assignments get bigger.
  • Incorporate group work, making sure to assess that work fairly (e.g., soliciting from each student an assessment of the relative contributions of each group member).
  • Have students engage in concept-mapping exercises, either individually (producing maps that can be shared with one another) or in groups.
  • Create opportunities in the course schedule for students to teach, facilitate, present, and offer feedback.
  • Consider having students mimic professional activities (e.g., creating a conference poster, writing a brief or proposal, etc.) or create public artifacts (e.g., op-eds, podcasts, youtube videos, etc.).

Create low-stakes opportunities for students to practice before they are asked to perform

Why does this matter?

It’s obvious enough that practice helps people perform more effectively, particularly given that any group of students is likely to have widely varying experience and levels of comfort with the skills they’ll need, as well as the possible influence of learning disabilities. Low-stakes assessment, as opposed to only high-stakes, heavily-weighted assignments/assessments, may be a helpful way to implement practice opportunities in a course. Many studies show that the expectations of rewards/punishments can actually inhibit a student’s intrinsic motivation to learn (cf. Hennessey, 2018). On the other hand, efforts to retrieve learned information in varying, low-stress environments has been shown to significantly increase both student learning and retention (Bjork and Bjork, 2011). Consequently, assessment can itself be a form of learning; a well-constructed low-stakes assignment reinforces the concepts and connections that you’re hoping students will internalize, and allows them to demonstrate to themselves what they know and what they don’t. Similarly, this kind of assessment allows instructors to gauge where students are struggling and any disconnects between their teaching and what students are able to do.

How might I do this?

  • Use a polling app, like PollEverywhere or Mentimeter, and other interactive tech in class and outside of class, such as Jamboard, to get a sense of how well students are grasping the material.
  • Instead of leaning entirely on summative assessment (final assignments/exams, usually involving a grade, on student work), respond to some student work with formative assessment (ungraded feedback designed to help the student grow rather than to make a decision about how well a student has done).
  • Break down written assignments into manageable steps that allow you to give feedback along the way: Create an outline; draft an annotated bibliography; add initial submission of drafts for quick feedback.

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