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Equity-Minded Assessment

“At its core, equitable assessment calls for those who lead and participate in assessment activities to pay attention and be conscious of how assessment can either feed into cycles that perpetuate inequities or can serve to bring more equity into higher education” (Montenegro & Jankowski, 2020, p. 9). Strategies to do this include:

Meaningful Student Involvement

Include student stakeholders in as many aspects of the assessment process as possible. This can include review of mission/vision/values, definition of learning outcomes, determining what to measure and how to measure it, participation in the collection of data, and analysis of data. While it may not be possible to include student stakeholders in all of these components of the assessment process, it is important that they are included in ways that are meaningful to them. One meaningful way to include students/stakeholders is in determining what could be changed to further their learning. By listening to students’/stakeholders’ voices, we are stepping outside of our own experiences and creating spaces for historically silenced students/stakeholders to speak (p. 10).

Data Disaggregation, Exploration, and Action

In addition to analyzing your assessment results by looking at all respondents (the aggregate), it is important to look at how students/stakeholders from different demographic groups responded (in other words, to disaggregate the results). The demographics you consider will vary depending on your group, but could include gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or ability/disability. Historically, large data sets have been analyzed in the aggregate, and often “outliers” are removed from the results. If these outliers represented participants from marginalized groups, then their experiences were not described accurately or at all in the findings. Alternatively, the measurements used may not have been designed to determine a student’s competence, but rather a student’s ability to take that type of test or assessment. Uncovering this can lead to changes in the way you assess students’/stakeholders’ abilities, which could change the outcomes for all students/stakeholders. By disaggregating your results, exploring what they mean, and acting on them, you give a voice to students/stakeholders who have long been marginalized.

Context-Specific Approaches and Responses

Unlike research, assessment should be designed for the student population you are working with. It should explore the impact of programs, services, facilities, and experiences on your students/stakeholders, rather than attempting to create something that could be universally applied. In fact, the power of assessment is that it is contextual and can be applied to a specific population or subpopulation of students/stakeholders. This enables it to be more nimble and relevant to your students/stakeholders. When keeping assessment local, and disaggregating results, you can connect assessment projects across campus to begin to tell a story about experiences of students/stakeholders from particular demographic groups and how the learning environment is affecting them. In this way, you can develop responses and act in a way that supports students/stakeholders from different backgrounds based on their particular needs.

Embedded in All Things Assessment

Being an equity-minded assessment professional is to act with ethical integrity, ensuring that all student voices are included in all aspects of the assessment process, thereby informing decision-making and action that is inclusive of all students. “What “ensuring that our assessments are appropriate for all students” means is that equitable assessment should work to ensure that learning outcomes, and how we assess those outcomes, are done in ways which do not privilege certain students/stakeholders over others; that data-informed changes are not benefiting one student group over others; and that assessment efforts are not conducted with only one dominant perspective or voice leading the process” (p. 14).

Montenegro, E., & Jankowski, N. A. (2020, January). A new decade for assessment: Embedding equity into assessment praxis (Occasional Paper No. 42). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).